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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Claudio Magris

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To purchase Blindly

Title: Blindly
Author: Claudio Magris
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 383 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Blindly - US
Blindly - UK
Blindly - Canada
Blindly - India
À l'aveugle - France
Blindlings - Deutschland
Alla cieca - Italia
A ciegas - España
  • Italian title: Alla cieca
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Anne Milano Appel

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Our Assessment:

A- : fascinating approach, impressively textured

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 12/1/2008 Pia Reinacher
The Guardian . 1/2/2013 Wayne Gooderham
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 18/10/2007 Steffen Richter
Sunday Times . 2/1/2013 Tom Deveson
TLS . 1/3/2013 Thea Lenarduzzi
Die Zeit . 8/11/2007 Kristina Maidt-Zinke

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dieser Roman ist also beides: ein klug komponiertes Werk eines Schriftstellers, das den Leser immer wieder in versteckte Erzählräume lockt und durch verschlungene Labyrinthe treibt, wo ihm entweder unerwartet Einsichten zuwachsen -- oder wo er schnurstracks abstürzt. Mit seiner Fülle von Anspielungen aus Mythologie, Literatur- und Menschheitsgeschichte ist Blindlings aber auch das etwas verstiegene, eigensinnige Opus eines Literaturwissenschaftlers, den die Leidenschaft zum Detail vorantreibt und der den Leser mit einer Überfülle an geballtem Wissen überfährt" - Pia Reinacher, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "And herein lies the novel's real strength: the translation by Anne Milano Appel is sublime, the prose rich and lyrical, creating a dreamlike intensity that makes even the more impenetrable passages a joy to wade through. Yes, this is an infuriatingly difficult read. It also might be a work of flawed genius." - Wayne Gooderham, The Guardian

  • "Anne Milano Appelís assiduous translation. It is apt that most readers will come to the text in a language other than the orignal Italian (.....) Magris is fascinated by such displacements and the waterways that enable them (.....) Magrisís frame of reference is equally wide-ranging" - Thea Lenarduzzi, Times Literary Supplement

  • "So wie die antiken Epen die größten Schrecken in Schönheit verwandelten, so macht auch Magris’ gnadenlose Vision menschlichen Scheiterns auf wundersame Weise jede Last leicht und das Meer des Lebens schiffbar." - Kristina Maidt-Zinke, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Blindly is an unusually layered first-person account that spans from the early nineteenth century to the late twentieth. It is narrated by an institutionalized man, "Tore (Salvatore) Cippico-Čipiko (Cipico)", writing these pages for the institution's yearbook at his doctor's behest. Among the defining experiences of his life was internment in Yugoslavia's notorious Goli Otok island Gulag after the Second World War. He is also convinced that he is: "the clone of a certain Jorgen Jorgensen", the nineteenth century Danish seaman who, like Tore, also has a connection to Australia -- and who is best known for declaring Iceland independent and himself its ruler (in a very short-lived adventure).
       From the beginning, Tore reminds his audience (the doctor, the reader) of the unreliability of any printed record -- something that he has often appreciated, as he has often had good reason to keep information about his 'true' identity or mission away from certain parties (notably the authorities).
       While recorded identity is unreliable, identity itself is not fixed either: in noting that: "my autobiographer embellished things a little, as almost always happens when you write" he shows he has little difficulty with the concept of personal experience channeled through others (or others' experience, channeled through himself) -- or even the autobiographer as other, rather than self.
       As he notes:

nobody can recount his own life or know himself. A person doesn't know what his own voice sounds like; it's others who recognize it and distinguish it.
       Blindly is a novel of several voices -- not so much channeled through Tore but rather appropriated by him. Tellingly, he also dictates his record -- "yes now I recognize myself, it's my voice" he says near the end -- but he's no great fan of any definitive and permanent record. One of the first acts he admits to is stealing his file from the institution offices and changing some of the details (identity remains readily malleable, he repeatedly demonstrates, even at the most official level), and as he notes repeatedly, the computers the doctor keeps his records on, as well as this account, allows for quick deletion of almost anything on it (throw in a virus and it gets even easier ...) -- and that tape is also not necessarily a very permanent recording .....
       "History is a spyglass held up to a blindfolded eye", Tore says. Having lived through so much 'history', he nevertheless realizes the difficulty of conveying it. Defined by his horrible experiences in Goli Otok, he nevertheless does not go on at great lengths about those years -- though the brief bursts of mention certainly convey its horror.
       The experiences there should certainly have crushed any last idealism:
You see, I was in Dachau, I risked my life to eliminate all the Dachaus from the face of the earth. Dachau is the culmination, the unparalleled apogee of evil, but at least everyone knew immediately what Dachau was, who the murderers were and who the victims, while at Goli Otok it was our comrades who massacred us and called us traitors, while still other comrades didn't want to know anything about it, gagging our mouths and plugging other people's ears. And if nobody's listening, it makes no difference whether you keep quiet or speak out; even raving to yourself in the street, gesturing and grimacing, doesn't mean much.
       Jorgensen allows Tore an escape - though one which he knows ended in shattered ideals, too. Yet reliving Jorgensen's life -- to the extent of seeing it also as his own -- is also a necessary exercise in getting to his own life.
       Both also have a connection to Australia, and Tore can relive the frontier-age through Jorgenson, allowing himself, for example, to say: "I, on the shores of that emptiness, build a world". Jorgenson's two antipodean attempts at world-building were not entirely opposite -- though his brief efforts in Iceland were of a different sort, an attempt to restore independence and an established society, rather than the creation the entirely new -- but both speak to Tore's own ideals.
       "I wanted to change the law, the language and the grammar of the jailers", Tore writes -- but of course what changes he can directly effect remain almost entirely personal. Yet his personal record, in its melding of voices, history, and identity, is anything but self-absorbed babbling; it is also, ultimately, a breaking free.
       Tore suggests:
Gravestones are condensed novels. Or rather, novels are expanded gravestones [.....] My autobiography is one of these expanded gravestones.
       Magris' novel is very much testament to those who suffered at Goli Otok (about which Anne Milano Appel's Afterword provides more background), but it is anything but a simple concentration camp account. The two fascinating life-stories he overlays here make for interesting stories, but 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.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 September 2012

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Blindly: Reviews: Claudio Magris: Other books by Claudio Magris under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Claudio Magris was born in 1939.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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