Gonçalo M. Tavares’s A Man: Klaus Klump may be the final installment of the author’s “Kingdom” cycle to be translated into English, but newcomers to Tavares’s work (I’m among them) shouldn’t shy away: Klaus Klump was the first work Tavares published in the series. And even better for us newcomers, intrigued by the author’s “Brief Notes on Science” that appeared in Asymptote’s April issue, is the fact that Klaus Klump works on the same aphoristic, probing level as his “Notes.”
Except this time there are characters. Or something resembling them.
The author, Gonçalo Tavares, is a Portuguese writer born in 1970 whose work Jerusalem (the third in the “Kingdom” cycle) won the 2005 José Saramago Prize, awarded for a Portuguese-language literary work written by a young author. But before Jerusalem, there was Klaus Klump, with a book blurb that reports it as “a harrowing portrait of a man without values, making his way through a world almost as immoral,” which is about as vague as it gets. Actually, the novel’s unmentioned plot is fascinating, especially in today’s doorstop-book-saturated literary landscape.
In under a hundred pages, the work describes an unnamed country (whose inhabitants bear the distinctly un-Portuguese names of Klaus, Johana, and Herthe) as it descends into horrific war, then casually recovers. The war’s toll on this strange, Germanic society is described in spare, pleasantly ambiguous detail, with its focus on the enigmatic figure of Klaus Klump.
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