Book Review: 'Where Tigers Are At Home'

Alan Cheuse reviews Where Tigers Are At Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Robles.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Our book reviewer, Alan Cheuse, has just traveled to Brazil and back in an 800-page novel. The book is called "Where Tigers Are At Home." It's by a French novelist named Jean-Marie Blas de Robles and it's just out in English. Here's Alan's review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: A Frenchman named Von Wogau, a divorced and retired journalist, lives in a small town in the northeastern region of Brazil. We see him shuffle into a tenuous affair with a visiting Italian journalist, but he spends most of his time translating a 17th century Latin biography of a European Jesuit scholar. I know, I know, sounds slow, but don't let this put you off.

We soon meet Von Wogau's ex-wife. She's set out with some colleagues on a river expedition into the rainforest, braving drug smugglers and headhunters in search of reported epic making fossil remains. Meanwhile, the main character's daughter, her girlfriend and a flirtatious male university instructor of hers from school, take a jaunt to a remote Atlantic beach town.

There, in the course of their carousings, they fall in with illiterate fishermen and then return to a slum neighborhood in Fortaleza, where dangerous gang thugs lurk. So if you take a deep breath and burrow through the first 100 pages - only one-eighth of this big novel, remember - you'll find yourself well reward. The ease with which this multi-linear story ranges back and forth in both time and place, from 17th century European courts to contemporary Brazilian cities, towns, forests, rivers and the dark ocean, suggests a writer with a grand scheme and the muscle to make it work.

Without coming anywhere near creating a spoiler, I can assure you that by the final quarter of the novel, even the link between that obscure Latin manuscript and an indigenous Mato Grosso tribe becomes clear. Those of you with the patience to stay with this huge and rewarding novel will find yourselves with a new European literary star to steer by.

CORNISH: That was Alan Cheuse reviewing the novel "Where Tigers Are At Home."

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