Where tigers are at home by Jean-Marie Blas De Robles

Where tigers are at home by Jean-Marie Blas De Robles

French fiction

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 ?

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Parrish
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 19:38:16

    his life story sounds similar to Camus, who I love as a writer giving this appeal beyond its obvious attractions.


  2. JoV
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 21:21:19

    I’m at awe at the translated fiction you read. I am knowledge poor and haven’t read any french translated fiction. There will be a day I have to read them soon! Thanks for the review.


  3. Nana Fredua-Agyeman
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:02:19

    No i’ve not read this or heard of this but you make it sound very interesting. I also love books that touches on several topics except that they are difficult to review. I think one that I’ve read which comes closest is Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Saramago’s Blindeness does not come close in terms of varied subjects.


  4. Violet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:02:58

    This does sound like a complex book and one that’s probably hard to write about because of it’s scope and scale. I shall have to check it out. Algeria certainly has turned out some influential writers and intellectuals.


  5. Parrish
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 20:58:14

    just popped over from The Reading Matter. So Hi & all the best.


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August 2012


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