Alphabetical Africa Paperback – May 1 1974
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From the Back Cover
Alphabetical Africa, Walter Abish's delightful first novel, is an extraordinary linguistic tour de force, high comedy set in an imaginary dark continent that expands and contracts with ineluctable precision, as one by one the author adds the letters of the alphabet to his book, and then subtracts them. While the 'geoglyphic' African landscape forms and crumbles, it is, among other things, attacked by an army of driver ants, invaded by Zanzibar, painted orange by the transvestite Queen Quat of Tanzania, and becomes a hunting ground for a pair of murderous jewel thieves tracking down their nymphomaniac moll.
About the Author
Walter Abish (1931- ) was born in Vienna but fled from the Nazis to Italy and later to Nice with his family while still a young child. They settled in Shanghai for most of the 1940s, and then relocated to Israel in 1949, where Abish served in the army and developed an interest in literature and writing. He moved to the United States in 1957 and became an American citizen in 1960. He's taught at several universities in the US, served on the International PEN board, and has won Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships.His experimental, cerebral works are not empty intellectual gestures but attempts to find fictional forms with which to express his reactions to the politically and socially unstable moment in which he was born and raised. Of his first book, Alphabetical Africahe wrote, "Feeling a distrust of the understanding that is intrinsic to any communication, I decided to write a book in which my distrust became a determining factor upon which the flow of the narrative was largely predicated."
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is often described as a novel, but a novel it probably isn't. Whilst there is a loose and somewhat banal narrative that strings its way through the alphabet (and back) the actual narrative does rather suffer somewhat from the constriction of the adopted form. I'm thinking in particular towards the end where the 'story' just fades into the background and can't even be said to give way to the form that dominates it - it just disappears.
The above criticism affirmed, however, shouldn't put off any potential readers from picking up a text that I can pretty much guarantee you have not even encountered anything remotely similar in your reading career - and that alone - the shifting of the paradigm, is worth the four stars.
What A.A. is and what it represents is the ultimate expression of 'Thinking outside the box' it is an act of Literary bravery which deserves something akin to the Victoria Cross for it takes the first tentative steps towards discarding the box altogether and thus opening up its contents for all to see, examine, scrutinise and discuss.
One can imagine a time when this kind of postmodern playfulness and skepticism of the grand récit (the established and entrenched novel form) has itself become passé and the reader is able to choose from a variety of authors experimenting with something other than the linear narrative, or the linear narrative, or the linear narrative... but alas those days seem so far off and that is certainly one reason why A.A. stands out so much - not because it is a great story, with exceptional plot or dialogue or exquisitely drawn characters, but mostly because of its audacity, and ultimately that is quite a sad fact to acknowledge.