Where tigers are at home by Jean-Marie Blas De Robles
Translated by Mike Mitchell
Source – review copy
When this fell on my doorstep from the publisher I was a bit daunted ,but managed over ten days or so , earlier this year to read this complexed novel .Then I’ve spent a few months sitting on reviewing it I get so stuck with large books on how to cover them well .So This book is by the French writer Jean-Marie Blas de Robles ,he is French writer who was born in Algeria , but moved to France in his youth ,he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne ,then spent many years travelling around the world .But since the 1990 has split his time between joining in archaeological digs and writing this was his third novel and took many years to write this epic book 700 plus pages and when it was originally published in France won the big French lit prizes and was shortlisted for both the Goncourt and European book award .
Once more Elezard leafed through the first chapter of the life of Athanasius Kircher,rereading his footnotes and certain passages as he did so .God .wasn’t the opening terrible! nothing more irritating than the stilted tone
Elezard near the start on his book
Any way too” where the tigers are at home “,now this book is split into thirty-two chapter and then between each chapter is an extract of a book been worked on by the main character Eleazard Von Wogau a french foreign correspondent ,he is living in a distant town in North east Brazil drinking in the bars and getting very friendly with some of the locals ,meanwhile his ex-wife and some of her students are in the middle of jungle on an expedition with his daughter in tow she has a drug problem .So the book unfolds between these main characters and there friends and enemies this interwoven with Von Wogau biography he is writing on the 17th century scholar Athanasius Kircher the Jesuit priest and scientist ,he wrote on varied subject such as science ,the bible ,technology and medicine ,he has been called Borges before Borges for the breadth of his interests (this adds to my feeling that anything worthwhile is some how touched by or connected to Borges ) .Umberto Eco has also written about Kircher .So through the extracts of Von Wogau’s book ,we find a lot out as we get the snippets of the life of Kircher and some how they echo what happens in the present .This is a place full of corrupt officials and ex pats , I felt a lot of the people we meet there where the sort of people who where trying to escape there lives elsewhere or have got caught in this places . We also capture Von Wogau in his thought as we see the notes he has scribble to himself in his notebooks .
Kircher fascinates me Because he’s a crank,a veritable artist at failure,at sham .His curiosity was exemplary but it took him to the very edge of fraud … how could peirsec continue to trust him ? (write to Malbois to check details on Mersenne etc.)
A bit from Von Wogau notebook
This book is truly epic in scale and is one that probably will never be read by the majority of people in English ,which is a great shame,as its complex ideas and narrative threads make it a rewarding read up there with the most challenging writers in English or any language .This would have made a great film in the series of films Werner Herzog made in Latin america in the seventies ,I somehow had that image in my head as I read of a wild place full of life and dangers at the same time .I think it is shame this was largely uncover in the national papers when it came out and just a few weeks ago in the TLS .This is probably one of the most French feeling books I’ve read even though it is set in Brazil .
Have you read this book ?