REVIEW by Willard Manus
Argentinian writer Juan Jose Saer tells an original and unsettling tale in THE CLOUDS, his latest novel (Open Letters; translated by Hilary Vaughan Dobel). It is narrated by Dr Real, who while in Madrid discovers a manuscript written back in 1801 by a Dutch doctor named Weiss, whose revolutionary ideas about the treatment of mental illness won him a measure of fame. Weiss, a learned and humane man (who frequented brothels) was based in a suburb of Buenos Aires, where his Casa de Salud catered to both rich and poor patients alike. All of them were treated with respect and affection, allowed to move about freely, work at different jobs. Dr Weiss golden rule was: All of a madmans actions, as trivial or absurd as they may seem, are significant.
Casa is forced to relocate to a town in the pampas called Las Tres Acacias,
THE CLOUDS shifts into a different, more hard-driving narrative gear.
The challenge of transporting half a dozen deranged men and women through
the barren, rugged plains was formidable. At the time, Argentina was a
Spanish colony: the occupying army was a minor presence in the wilderness,
which was home to hostile Indian tribes, slaves and slave traders, pumas
and snakes. The weather was equally menacing: savage wind, rain and fire