Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Kingdom of This World, by Alejo Carpentier

I don't often have this reaction, but this book was just plain cool. It's a short book, but was made slightly longer by the number of times I had to put the book down just to allow the biblical thunder of the prose to pass over me. I don't really care for those "this writer is like a Kafkaesque Chekhov" type of pseudo-evaluations, but I think I can nearly get away with saying that the book reads like what I would expect if Cormac McCarthy decided to re-write The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

That being said, the diction of the book is also vigorously distinct. Even in translation, the shifts in register are noticeable, cutting very close to the marmoreal solidities of Latin at some points, and at others laughing in an acutely piquant patois. But the range isn't just some ostentatious display, eager to impress, reticent to mean. Carpentier's range isn't shy of meaningfulness: stylistic elevations or plunges are extraordinarily effective at creating the sense of a society seething with arcane energies, weird forces which can only be expressed in strange idioms.

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