Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Cortázar: 62: A Model Kit

This dust jacket is so similar in style and lettering to the one used for Hopscotch that you'd think it would have to be by George Salter as well, but Salter was long dead and this dazzling design was in fact by Kenneth Miyamoto. If you didn't look closely you might miss the suggestion of a cityscape with mountains in the distance. The superimposed geometrical forms below the title are actually appropriate, since the novel is set in several real European cities but also takes place in overlapping dimensions ("the City" and "the zone") that are organized more by systems of affinities than by geography. This is Cortázar's strangest novel, and it took me a couple of tries to penetrate its mysteries. The first thirty pages or so are slow going the first time out, but once you get past that it's a book like no other, aptly described by Carlos Fuentes as "an ironic, sentimental journey through a city plan drawn up by the Marx Brothers with an assist from Bela Lugosi." The reference to Lugosi isn't gratuitous; there's vampirism in the book, among many other things. The title alludes to Chapter Sixty-Two of Hopscotch, in which a prospectus for a novel -- or rather an approach to the writing of a novel -- is set forth. Almost everyone in the book is in love with someone, usually someone who's interested in another person entirely, who in turn... It all ends, sweetly and sadly, with dead leaves (actually a character named Feuille Morte, who has a pet snail) and insects circling a streetlight. The American edition, from 1972, is jointly dedicated by Cortázar and translator Gregory Rabassa to "Cronopio Paul Blackburn," who had died the year before, and bears these lines from Jorge Manrique's "Coplas por la muerte de su padre":
y aunque la vida murio, nos dexo harto consuelo su memoria

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