Blindly by Claudio Magris

Claudio Magris has been a professor of Germanic studies at the University of Trieste since 1978. 
He is the author of Danube, a best-selling novel now translated into more than twenty languages, and in 2001 he was awarded the Erasmus Prize. He has translated into Italian the works of such authors as Ibsen, Kleist, Schnitzler, Buchner, and Grillparzer.

Yale University Press, 
September 2012

Who is the mysterious narrator of Blindly? Clearly a recluse and a fugitive, but what more of him can we discern? Baffled by the events of his own life, he muses, "When I write, and even now when I think back on it, I hear a kind of buzzing, blathered words that I can barely understand, gnats droning around a table lamp, that I have to continually swat away with my hand, so as not to lose the thread." 

Claudio Magris, one of Europe's leading authors and cultural philosophers, offers as narrator of Blindly a madman. Yes, but a pazzo lucido, a lucid madman, a single narrative voice populated by various characters. He is Jorgen Jorgenson, the nineteenth-century adventurer who became king of Iceland but was condemned to forced labor in the Antipodes. He is also Comrade Cippico, a militant communist, imprisoned for years in Tito's gulag on the island Goli Otok. And he is the many partisans, prisoners, sailors, and stowaways who have encountered the perils of travel, war, and adventure. In a shifting choral monologue—part confession, part psychiatric session—a man remembers (invents, falsifies, hides, screams out) his life, a voyage into the nether regions of history, and in particular the twentieth century. 

First published by Penguin Canada, 2010

From The New Yorker, October 22, 2012, p. 81: 
Blindly, by Claudio Magris, translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel (Yale). Written in a torrential monologue, this novel presents readers with the disconnected thoughts of a madman (that most unreliable of narrators), and depicts one of the darkest chapters of the twentieth century. "History is a spyglass held up to a blindfolded eye," he says at one point, perhaps summing up the novel's conceit. At times, he is a prisoner in Goli Otok, the hellish gulag where Tito condemned Yugoslavian fascists and, later, Stalinists. At other times, he is Jorgen Jorgensen, the adventurer and self-proclaimed ruler of Iceland, who explored Tasmania only to return to it years later as a convict. Or, maybe, he is both. As he reassures the reader, "It's History that's sick, that's taken leave of its senses, not me." The narrative is confusing and unstable, but the prose, which meanders through the crevasses of a complicated mind, takes off and reads like poetry.

From M.A.Orthofer’s review in The Complete Review, September 2, 2012: 
“fascinating approach, impressively textured”
“…the success of the novel comes in the musical counterpoint composition of the text. It’s not always easy to follow, and yet, like a piece of music, does easily carry the reader along.” 
“Quite a remarkable work, playfully amusing and deeply serious.”


Penguin Canada,
April 2010 

Hailed as a masterpiece on its initial publication in Italy, Blindly (Alla cieca, Garzanti, 2005) is a novel of highly original, poetic intensity. One reviewer, writing in La Repubblica of May 19, 2005, describes the work as a voyage through time and space, whose innovative form is the narrative voice of a pazzo lucido, a lucid madman. The unity of time and place are shattered, and there is not so much a plot as two categories operant in the world: the revolutionary and his inquisitors and persecutors. Formalistically speaking, the novel is an experiential vortex: the narrative is a river of words, a flood, a sea – a stream of consciousness and flow of associations that becomes a torrent. Thematically it reprises recurring motifs found in Magris’ work, such as the sea, as well as his concerns with lives that are derailed and left high and dry. Indeed the author has written that the writer's task is to pull shipwrecked lives out of the water and “take them aboard a precarious Noah's Ark of paper”. That and to set the world right. 

The figurehead is another recurring motif. If in one sense it represents those who turn a blind eye, who look and move on, guarda e passa as Dante says, it is also the image of a humanity that having lost its way, continues to plow ahead sightlessly, gropingly through life’s seas in a singular act of faith. At times a blindfold is necessary, so as not to see fear and be able to go forward. The figurehead is also a lifesaver, literally and figuratively. A shipwrecked seaman can grab onto her wooden skirts and float to safety.In the end this journey through space and time is a story of senseless actions and wrongs endured and inflicted. Of revolutionaries and those who persecute them. Of victims and oppressors, hunter and prey, prisoners and their warders, the betrayed and their betrayers everywhere. And over it all the pall of silence, of shrouding the truth. By those unwilling to attest to it. Another form of the occhio bendato, of not seeing.


Claudio Magris, born in Trieste, Italy, is one of Europe’s most renowned writers, essayists and critics. His work, translated into numerous languages, has won him worldwide acclaim and numerous awards, and he has often been mentioned as a frontrunner for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Professor of German Studies at the University of Trieste, Magris is a member of several European academies and has been visiting professor in many North American and European institutions. He served as senator in the Italian Parliament from 1994 to 1996.

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