The Scale of Maps by Belén Gopegui

scale of mapsMadrid based author Belén Gopegui‘s first novel The Scale of Maps was released in translation by City Lights in 2011 and has since been compared to the likes of Cervantes, Nabokov, and Borges. Recently a new wonderful review written by John Yargo over at The Rumpus came out, giving us the opportunity to spotlight this wonderful book again. Our edition was translated by Mark Schafer, an award-winning translator in his own right.

A quick synopsis: a geographer is thrown into a psychological crisis by the romantic advances of Brezo Varela, a lively young woman who shares his profession. Haunted by a series of hallucinations in which he’s relentlessly pursued by a cynical, vampire-like seductress whose promises of pleasure fill him with horror, Prim attempts to seek refuge by immersing himself in an obsessive metaphysical quest: he determines that he must map the way to a place in which love never results in disillusionment.

As Yargo points out, Gopegui has been noted by novelists Roberto Bolaño and Francisco Umbral as one of the most promising Spanish language writers working today. Additionally she has received praise by critic and Spanish literature scholar Idoya Puig.

Mr. Yargo writes,

Cartography as quixotic undertaking is also a theme of the indelible first novel of Belén Gopegui, a Madrid-based writer. The Scale of Maps, owing partly to its short, honed chapters,is brisk, taut storytelling. Its protagonist-narrator, Sergio Prim, describes his unusual love affair with another cartographer, his troubles at work, and the metaphysical debates he has with other mapmakers. Throughout the novel he openly questions both his own psychological reliability and ability to handle human relationships. At times, he clearly fabricates conversations and events. This novel of ideas never feels contrived or schematic.

As in Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances or John Lanchester’s great The Debt to Pleasure, the first-person narrator is mad, and his madness defamiliarizes the banal rituals of intimacy. Throughout the novel, Sergio Prim, a quixotic mapmaker in the Borgesian tradition, makes repeated claims for the explanatory power of myth, abstraction, and non-empirical truths. As a geographer and as a madman, he blurs the line between sign and referent.

It leads Sergio to produce off-kilter flourishes like this: “I have always liked examining people’s topographical features, catching them unawares as they rest their hands in a moment of inattention, their sonorous and pensive profile or their black moustache, their dark tragedy.”

Hop on over to The Rumpus to see the full review – we also recommend Nuria Amat, Carmen Martín Gaite, and Julio Cortázar ( who was recently highlighted on our blog for his edition to the Pocket Poets Series).

For more fiction in translation by City Lights, check out our newest novel, A Corner of the World, and other great novels from around the world at our bookstore.

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