Claudio Magris: Blindly

November 30, 2015

41GxxrU2uFL._AA160_Sometimes a book I’ve read confuses me: I look it up to see what others have said and thought. I got no further enlightenment, however, from the critics and reviewers who raved about this book, as if it was the greatest thing since I don’t know what.

I read Magris’ Danube a number of years ago, and enjoyed it, and on the back of it, decided to try Blindly. It was pretty much a mistake, and a waste of eyeball time.

A man – in some kind of hospital, I suspect a mental institution, talks to a doctor or psychiatrist of some kind, who never replies. The entire book is a monologue. The man tells several stories, interwoven (or jumbled, take your pick) of several characters he claims to have been in the past – a short term king of Iceland, a Danish adventurer, a convict banished to Tasmania in the early nineteenth century, an Italian or Yugoslav partisan during the Second World War. Oppressed, and on the side of the oppressed, he is keenly aware of the ways in which attempts at revolution, changing the world, bettering it for ordinary folk, seem to end up corrupting and destroying themselves, the oppressed eventually becoming the oppressors, and concealed near the end there seems to be a vision of Mikhail Gorbachev as the ultimate betrayer – I think… but I didn’t need 450 pages to go around the houses telling me that.

There are times when I worry because I haven’t enjoyed, or got anything from, a book that is supposed to be a good one. Am I going soft, losing my touch, my critical faculties, or what? In this case, I really don’t think so, and I gave Magris the benefit of the doubt, and stuck with it to the end.

3 Responses to “Claudio Magris: Blindly”

  1. I am puzzled by this: “concealed near the end there seems to be a vision of Mikhail Gorbachev as the ultimate betrayer” – can you be more specific? Which “vision” are you referring to? Thank you for your interest.
    –Anne Milano Appel, translator of Blindly by Claudio Magris (Yale University Press, 2012; Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Canada, 2010)


    • litgaz Says:

      Your question is rather hard for me; you’ll have gathered I struggled with what I found a difficult book. I also need to point out that what I actually read was the French translation of the book; I gave my review the English title because my blog is for English readers. However: towards the end (?perhaps about three-quarters of the way through) , the speaker is clearly in his persona as an ageing Communist recalling his life, and there is a section where he is referring to the events of 1989-91, the collapse and disappearance of the old regimes, and a couple of times he referred to a man with a birthmark on his head, who I interpreted as M Gorbachev. The speaker’s attitude towards him came across as that of an old-guard communist who felt betrayed by actions which had undone his life’s strivings. I found myself reading a little more attentively for these few pages. If you think I have been misreading, I’m happy to be told this!


      • Oh, yes, thank you. And no, I don’t think you were misreading. I found the passage you mean on pp. 345-346 of the English version:
        “But that December evening, I don’t know why, Pavlidis had tuned all the television sets to the same channel and the man with the strawberry mark on his forehead, the last king of Colchis, was talking and talking, he talked from every luminous rectangle—so many faces so many strawberry marks on the foreheads and at a certain point I saw Red Square, numerous Red Squares, and the red flag being lowered, all my flags were being lowered and the voice of someoneyou couldn’t see and who wasn’t the man with the strawberry mark on his forehead was saying something about the red flags ending up in the dust and about the rising sun setting. So many voices, the same voice, was coming from those luminous boxes and then something exploded in my head and in my heart—those red flags that were being lowered flew out of the boxes, unfurled until the sky was covered with them and then they dropped, they came down, a huge worldwide lowering of the flag, a bloody sun that plummets smashes bursts and disappears. The end of everything, the end of me.”


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