Impressions of Africa (Calderbooks) Paperback – 1 Oct 2001
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'Roussel generated the extraordinary inventions of such unclassifiable
fictions as "Impressions of Africa" and "Locus Solus". This procédé, of
which even his greatest champions, most vocally the surrealists, were
unaware during his lifetime.'
-- Gilbert Adair, The Evening Standard
About the Author
Raymond Roussel (Paris, January 20, 1877 - Palermo, July 14, 1933) was a French poet, novelist, playwright, musician, chess enthusiast, neurasthenic, and drug addict. Through his novels, poems, and plays he exerted a profound influence on certain groups within 20th century French literature, including the Surrealists, Oulipo, and the authors of the nouveau roman. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I only found one thing bad about the book, and I'm going to discuss that right away. This one thing happens two times, but it's the same phenomenon causing the same problem. It happens first in describing a chemist (I think his name is Bex) and his precious stone locating machine, and again in describing an inventor (I think his name is Bedu) and his weaving machine. In both scenarios, there's lots of terminology involved in the description of how both machines work, and it bores me to death. I think these parts could have really been shortened. But perhaps I would have enjoyed the weaving scene more if I knew what half the words meant. What the heck do I know about weaving in the first half of the 20th century? I'm freakin' 26 years old.
Everything else about the book was great. There's no plot through the first half of the book whatsoever. It's just a bunch of folks putting on various interesting displays at a crowning ceremony. There are a few violent punishments too, but each of those is quite short.
One fellow is throwing magic pills into a pool of water that create ripples in the shape of detailed pictures, another is playing like ten instruments at a time even though he has no arms or legs, and another is demonstrating how a worm can play a zither. Lots of interesting stuff happens really fast, except for the two scenes previously mentioned.
Then the second half of the book is an actual story, with a bunch of short stories mixed in. The short stories mostly tell how each character chose to display such and such performance at the crowning of the new African emperor, and the actual story tells the history of the family roots of the Emperor and a bitter feud he had with another tribe.
My favorite short story is about this one fellow who loves the ocean and wants to see what's on the bottom so much, he puts himself in a deathlike state until he can actually sleepwalk into the ocean without drowning. When he comes back with some coral-like momentos from his long dreamed of trip, he discovers he can make them come to life if he gives them some of his blood clots to eat. Definitely stuff you don't see every day.
Roussel's work paints a picture of Africa as a very interesting and unusual land. A perfect setting for this kind of obscure book. It's definitely worth checking out for anyone who's into surrealism.
Trying to describe Roussel's enigmatic novel in 1000 words is impossible. While the book is currently not available, readers can check out an extract in Roussel's "How I Wrote Certain of My Books," an excellent volume itself, which contains sections form some of Roussel's other works and John Ashbery's translation of Roussel's essay explaining his fascinating methods of composition.