Gene Wolfe Spins A Kafkaesque Travelogue To A Fictional 'Land'

Alan Cheuse reviews Gene Wolfe's The Land Across.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Gene Wolfe is a novelist in the spirit of Jonathan Swift or Ursula K. Le Guin. He is an inventor of imaginary lands. His latest book, "The Land Across," is about an unnamed Eastern European country, and reviewer Alan Cheuse says it would be a better place to visit than to live.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: In "The Land Across," veteran science fiction master Gene Wolfe comes down to earth and gives us the story of a travel writer stuck in limbo in a strange land. The writer, named Grafton, has in mind to write the first travel book about this unnamed Eastern European nation that he thinks of as the land across the mountain.

Grafton takes a train across the border and finds that he's immediately arrested. The authorities take his passport and deliver him to a house in a nearby suburban neighborhood where, as the odd custom of this odd country would have it, he becomes the prisoner of the owner. As we follow Grafton in his quest to regain his passport and inadvertently acquire much more knowledge about the manners and morays of the country's inhabitants than he had first desired, we struggle a bit to work ourselves comfortably into the style, which stands somewhere between the intimate tone of a first person crime thriller and the formal syntax of a travel guide of the variety that Grafton has apparently produced before.

But this strange and engrossing story rewards a little struggle. Grafton's internment, his efforts to buy a place to live on his own, his relations with the wife of his jailer, this encounters with the JAKA, the secret police of this country, and the local manifestations of a darkly supernatural strain of events, all of this makes for a supposedly realistic novel that gives off the feel of a closely viewed dream.

If you thought no one could improve on Kafka, try this one at home.

SIEGEL: "The Land Across" is a novel by Gene Wolfe. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.