Following on Mark's lead, here are some thoughts on what book I might have nominated for the first quarter, had I been on the nominating committee this time around.
When I first thought about the idea of what I might have nominated, one book came to mind. Then I realized that it's not being published for a couple of months and so if I happen to be a nominator for the second quarter, I actually could nominate it. I needed something else, something a little bit older.
Sifting through some of the piles of books on the floor, I discovered the perfect coulda-been-a-nominee: The Fourth Circle by Zoran Zivkovic, published in the U.S. by The Ministry of Whimsy and Night Shade Books in a translation from the Serbian by Mary Popovic.
Just the description on the dustjacket flap brings back excited memories of reading the book:
What could a computer wizard self-exiled in an abandoned Buddhist temple possibly have in common with the humble servant of a medieval fresco painter?When I first read The Fourth Circle last year, I was mystified at the beginning, because nothing seemed to cohere, but then, about forty pages in, I discovered I was in love with the book -- utterly enchanted and transfixed by the swirl of ideas and settings and characters and allusions, the sheer breadth of it. Against all odds, it's a tremendously unpretentious book, a novel that is immensely fun to read even as it roams through human and literary history. Unlike so many American writers of similar concerns, Zivkovic is not envious of the Manhattan phone book's girth, and so he is content to use a mere 230 pages to set ideas spinning like wool caught in some mad philosopher's loom.
What is the link between the enigmatic mission of a giant radio-telescope and a tribe of spherical beings who dwell in a world full of unearthly scents and herbs?
What will bring four great scientist from various centuries, Archimedes, Ludolph van Ceulen, Nikola Tesla and Stephen Hawking, to the same spot in time?
What has this got to do with Rama, a female computer program, impregnated by a strange ape?
And, above all, why is it necessary for Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty to join forces so that the Fourth Circle can finally be closed?
I've only had time to read The Fourth Circle once, and once is certainly not enough -- all I ended with was a great sense of affection, of having been led through a magnificent labyrinth. I knew that I needed to start all over, because the first time through is all about the joy of the journey, but I haven't yet had the chance, and I never wrote about the book because I didn't feel I could say much other than: Read this! I would love to have read it again and discussed it here, would love to see what other people thought of the various narratives, of the puzzles and games, of the words and images and concepts, of the Sherlock Holmes pastiche at the end.
In any case, The Fourth Circle is a book that deserves an intelligent and appreciative audience -- an audience of readers not afraid to set aside whatever preconceptions they have of what must or must not be Literature, an audience yearning to go on a strange, smart, wondrous journey through imagination.