REVIEW by Willard Manus
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 Pitols 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 Shakespeares 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.