My Two Worlds

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

One critic has called it "the novel of the future," another a novel that "challenges the conventions of...literature." But is MY TWO WORLDS by Sergio Chejfec really a novel or is it simply a long, erudite essay passing itself off as fiction?

Chefjec, an Argentinian writer who now teaches at NYU, writes MY TWO WORLDS in the first person. The narrator, an author on the eve of his fiftieth birthday, has just delivered a speech at a literary conference in Brazil. Done with his business in the academic (read mundane) world, he crosses over into his second--the world of an "eternal walker."

With map in hand, he sets off to investigate the four corners of the city--a city which is unfamiliar to him. Wandering like this is a "tortuous ritual," he confesses. Driven by a mysterious impulse, he has no goals or desires in mind as he explores the urban terrain, commenting on all that he encounters in a wise, world-weary way.

That's the extent of MY TWO WORLDS' story. Nothing dramatic happens; no other significant characters appear; there is no plot, no action, no narrative surprises or revelations. There is just an anonymous writer slowly working his way through an unknown city, a journey that ends in the peace and beauty of a public park.

MY TWO WORLDS is all intelligence, then; all language and sensibility. Yet it held me in its spell, made me keep reading. I wasn't exactly at the edge of my seat, but I did stay with the book until I reached the final page. And when I put the slim volume down, I realized that I had just spent a few hours in the company of a rare and remarkable writer--more shoeleather philosopher than novelist, though.

(Open Letter, $12.95 ppbk; translated from the Spanish by Marrgaret B. Carson)