“A Man: Klaus Klump” and the power of Gonçalo Tavares’s art at Words Without Borders

Gonçalo M. Tavares (Does the M stand for ManManiacMaster? Certainly not anything as common as Manuel . . .) is a writer that trades in oppositions. And business is good.

High-low. Nature-technology. Man-woman. Alive-dead. All are as liquid currency in the not-so-free market of Tavares’s prose, most recently incarnated in A Man: Klaus Klump. The novel follows a would-be book publisher turned wartime revolutionary in some unidentified city likely set in eastern or central Europe. Appearing in Portugal in 2003, the first part of Tavares’s four-part Kingdomcycle is also the last to become available in English through a translation from Rhett McNeil.

His second translation from the Kingdom cycle, McNeil expertly renders the spirit of Tavares’s writing, which can often feel fragmentary and abrupt, more like an outline of a philosopher’s treatise than a specimen of literature in the traditional sense. Rather than focus on a single set of characters, works in the cycle share a common setting that Tavares calls “the Kingdom.” It is a world not unlike our own, but which seems a great deal removed in how Tavares selectively reveals and conceals particulars. Plots are developed to illuminate this world, but they also change the nature of those spaces where actions occur, making them appear distorted and strange. In Klaus Klump Tavares writes that “fire brings night to things, brings it inside of them,” and each novel in the Kingdomfeels like one more branch added to that fire. Of course, Tavares isn’t concerned with the burning branch, but the fire itself, which throws light and dark on our surroundings—that backdrop against which our lives, and those of Tavares’s characters, unfold. As Tavares writes about this world in ways that imply rather than explain, McNeil’s ability to convey what might otherwise be lost between the lines makes his translations all the more impressive.

Click here to read the entire review at Words Without Borders

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