The Magician Of Vienna

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Thanks to Deep Vellum, one of the leading publishers of international literature in translation, we can now read the work of the Mexican writer, Sergio Pitol. The Dallas-based Deep Vellum has just published the final volume of Pitol’s Cervantes Prize-winning “Trilogy of Memory,” THE MAGICIAN OF VIENNA (the other two books being “The Art of Flight” and “The Journey”.)

THE MAGICIAN OF VIENNA is an unusual kind of book, a melding of autobiography, travel writing, notes from a diary, and comments on literature. Pitol, who seems to have read every important novel ever published (he is fluent in half a dozen languages), discusses many of these novels in an erudite yet compelling way, stressing how much they have meant to him as both writer and human being.
Born in Puebla in 1933, Pitol is a true citizen of the world: he studied law and philosophy in Mexico City and Rome, served as a translator in Beijing and Barcelona, became a university professor in Xalapa and Bristol, then joined the Mexican Foreign Service and spent time in Warsaw, Budapest, Paris, Moscow and Prague.
THE MAGICIAN OF VIENNA opens with Pitol talking about the first influences on him: Borges and Faulkner, whose “splendor was such that, for a time, they overshadowed all others.” Then he lists some of the Mexican poets and writers of his generation whom he admired (or disliked), only to segue into an appreciation of Eudora Welty, “an exceptional storyteller from the Southern United States.” From there he turns his attention, in a long and erudite essay, to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” making points that few others have, only to segue into his personal life, describe how and why he wrote his first short stories.

It goes on like that for another two hundred pages, literary and intimate talk of the highest order, in a book that, as one critic has said, “resembles a cloudy gemstone: at once glimmering and opaque, layered and precise.” (