It’s a beautifully designed book with haunting illustrations.
The Introduction, by Iain Sinclair, makes some interesting comparisons between this book, and Kafka’s writings.
The pages were printed on Abbey Pure Paper. The book is three-quarter bound in buckram with a paper front.
Originally published in serial form in the early 20th century, the story is set in the Jewish ghetto in Prague. The central character, and narrator is Pernath, a gem engraver. As the story progresses we sometimes do not know whether he is dreaming, deluded or is engaged in mystical time shifting. There is an associated carnival of characters which reminded me of the inhabitants of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” – there’s a red haired child prostitute, a deaf mute, a junk seller, an impoverished medical student, a travelling puppeteer, an aristocratic woman engaged in an adultrous affair, Miriam, the wise daughter of a scholar, and other shady characters. The Golem lurks in the background. In Czech and Jewish folklore the Golem was an object made of base elements which could be brought to life by magical words written on a scrap of a paper. In the story, every 33 years the Golem seems to become more active and more disturbing events occur.
Pernath is accused of murder and is imprisioned. He never goes to trial and is eventually released, but by that time the ghetto has been torn down, and his friends have disappeared. He searches for Miriam hoping that she is still alive. Eventually he finds her, but she is in a building with another version of Pernath, and the gates close against him.
This is a very atmospheric novel. We just don’t know the relationship between reality (in the novelistic sense) and fuge. There is a recurring motif in the novel about the similarities, and the differences, between a stone and a lump of fat. One can look like another, but it’s hard to grip onto a lump of fat as you are plunging into some sort of depth. Then again, with the smoothness of age, a stone can be so weathered that it can provide no more grip than a lump of fat.
This was Gustav Meyrink’s first novel. It borrowed heavily from his interest in mysticism and a spell in jail.
Translated by Mike Mitchell . This is a translation from 1995, originally for Dedalus. I would be curious to compare how the “low brow” dialogue which occured when Pernath was in jail was variously translated.
Vladimir Zimakov provided the wonderful illustrations. They are haunting and suit the mood of the book.
Just a couple more. There are 10 altogether.
Coming Up for 2012
The plan is to cover all the 1949 books, with a few more recent ones as well.
A School For Scandal should be next