I've always been attracted to strange books. Once in a while, my safe, comfortable, ordinary life on the West Coast of the United States starts to feel a little too ordinary, and I feel a compulsion to read things that will do weird things to my brain: House of Leaves, Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, The Sandman, stories by Gene Wolfe, John Crowley, Ray Bradbury, etc. I guess it's just more my style than trying ecstasy or going bungee-jumping.
Most of these books have just been passing fancies, though some have come to have lasting importance for me. I first read the unusual work of 19th century literature called The Manuscript Found in Saragossa about a decade ago, and I've just never gotten it out of my system. What do I make of this bizarre, trippy, scandalous book? How could it have possibly written two hundred years ago?
The fact that the author was a brilliant, eccentric, globe-trotting Polish count, of course, just makes it that much more irresistible. Also, the book is well known, well studied, and much discussed in Polish and French literary circles, but the English-speaking world is all but unaware of it. So that makes it mysterious; I can't easily find scholarly articles or author biographies at the library. I like a challenge.
This blog is a way for me to share my thoughts on The Manuscript Found in Saragossa and the information I'm able to dig up on the book, its historical and literary context, and its author. I'm not an expert on the book, on the time period, or on Polish literature. I'd be better prepared to tackle this challenge if I could read either French or Polish, but, unfortunately, I can't. I'm a bit hopeful that others with an interest in the book will find me through this blog and we'll be able to share information.
Finally, I hope that I can inspire a few more English readers to give the book a try.
Should you read The Manuscript Found in Saragossa? Maybe. Honestly, if you're easily offended, the book probably has something to offend you. There are ghost stories, tales of possession and demons, occult practices, quite a lot of sex, and a little cross-dressing. Christians and Christianity are treated both cynically and skeptically; Jews and Muslems are portrayed in ways that are historically inaccurate and, frankly, pretty bizarre, by today's standards.
On the other hand, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is also full of humor, romance, adventure, and mystery. If you're willing to be a bit patient (Ian Maclean's English translation runs more than 600 pages) and take some of the book's quirks with a grain of salt, maybe The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is for you.