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The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan…
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The Manuscript Found in Saragossa (1814)

by Jan Potocki

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2282410,102 (4.13)52
"It is 1739 and Alphonse van Worden, a Walloon officer serving the King of Spain, spends the night in a haunted inn in the Sierra Morena where he is plunged into a series of adventures, by turns mysterious, erotic and nightmarish. Convinced that he is being hunted by the Inquisition, he joins a band of wanderers - including a gypsy chief, a geometer, a cabbalist and the Wandering Jew himself - who travel aimlessly while regaling their companions with a hundred and more stories, and stories within stories, told over the course of sixty-six 'days', each day as disorienting as a thousand and one nights." "And this nest of stories frames yet more stories driving the reader ever deeper into a labyrinth of sadism, satanism, the cabbala and other phantoms brought forth by the sleep of eighteenth-century Reason. For as well as being one of the great masterpieces of subversion, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is also an encyclopedia of the dark side of the European Enlightenment." "The Manuscript Found in Saragossa was written in French, probably between 1797 and 1815; this new translation makes the full text available in English for the first time."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)
  1. 20
    Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin (slickdpdx)
    slickdpdx: Another extraordinary frame story. Whereas Saragossa is like a string of beads, Melmoth is like a Russian doll. Maturin takes you down eight frames (story within a story within a story within a story within a story within a story etc. etc. etc.) before resurfacing.… (more)
  2. 20
    The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (ljessen)
  3. 10
    The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea (bezoar44)
    bezoar44: I personally liked the Manuscript Found in Saragossa, and not the Illuminatus! Trilogy, but they shared a skewed, surreal aesthetic and a fascination with conspiracies.
  4. 00
    The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz (bluepiano)
  5. 11
    The Golden Ass by Apuleius (caflores)
  6. 00
    Architect of Ruins by Herbert Rosendorfer (bluepiano)
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» See also 52 mentions

English (18)  German (3)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Without pretentious pseudo-philosophies and further ado, this book is one of the best examples of Historical Fiction ever produced, in all its weird glory, beauty and fascination. History, Myths, Apocrypha, Religion,Philosophy....you name it. ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
I found this book fascinating, readable, delightful . . . and confusing. The manuscript found in Saragossa (the manuscript that is, not the book) was written in the 18th century by a young Walloon officer, Alphonse, after he was sent to Spain (apparently at that time both Spain and Belgium were ruled by the Hapsburgs; thanks, Wikipedia). He has to travel to meet his regiment in Madrid and chooses a route across the La Morena mountains in Andalusia despite having been warned against it. Shortly after he starts off, his mule driver and servant desert him, and he seeks shelter and food at an abandoned inn. After midnight strikes, when he knows ghosts come out, there is a knock on his door and a black woman invites him to follow her, which he does, through corridor after corridor, until he reaches a lavishly appointed room, and then two beautiful young Moorish women appear and invite him to eat. They then tell their story: they are part of a group of Islamic people who stayed in hiding in Spain after the expulsion of 1492 and they are Alphonse's cousins. If he will convert to Islam, they will be his wives; he refuses. The next morning he wakes up sleeping under a gallows with two hanging men.

And so his adventures begin, and this wonderfully entertaining novel too. In the course of it, Alphonse will meet such delightful characters as a hermit, a crazy man, a gypsy chief, a kabbalist and his sister (also trained in Kabala), a mathematician who believes that everything (even love) can be explained by systems of equations and numbers, and even the Wandering Jew. Over the next 65 days, each of these people will tell his or her story, interspersed with nested stories of people they encountered over their lives, and their stories are often spread out over several days. Because there stories involve so many characters, and their connections are not always clear, I found at times I was struggling to remember who was who. My Penguin edition has a guide to the stories, listing the various chapters in which various characters tell their stories, but a guide to some of the secondary characters would have been helpful as well.

The stories are always lively, and involve love, often unrequited or dangerous in some way, treachery, spying, deceit (a lot of people pretending to be someone else), duels, history, colonial adventures, intellectual and religious exploration, and a lot more. The gypsy chief's story, spread out over many chapters, is particularly filled with adventure and, indeed, suspense. Potocki obviously was immersed in many fields, because this book covers such a breadth of topics. Until the ending is revealed, there are aspects of this novel that seem supernatural -- to the characters and to the reader -- but all is explained in the last chapter.

I learned of this book through a review here on LT last year; I'm glad it turned out to be as fun as this review made it sound.
6 vote rebeccanyc | Feb 15, 2015 |
Leggere queste 700 pagine negli anni della sua scrittura (primi anni del 19° sec) avrebbe stupito, meravigliato, eccitato. Certe parti i più deboli di cuore le avrebbero saltate, o si sarebbero tappati le orecchie per non udirle.Purtroppo siamo nel 21°, e molte delle cose che P. descrive con minuziosa attenzione e fantasia le abbiamo gia' viste, sentite, lette - sopratutto nei film Disney. Il castello delle scatole cinesi e dei rimandi delle diverse storie è impressionante e bisogna accettare il fatto di smarrirsi in un labirinto di nomi, vicende storiche, avventure esotiche. Il testo vale dal punto di vista storico come summa di generi, nonchè come fatica biblica dello scrittore (che giustappunto si è suicidato al termine della scrittura), del lettore (al quale non si augura medesimo destino) e del curatore (R. Ramazzini, che ha creato un unico testo da non so più quante stesure incomplete, parziali e raffazzonate). Come lettura, può bastare la versione 'breve'.
Al limite. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Large and sprawling enough to know that I missed alot and forgot alot once the various stories linked themselves back together. I felt like it spent the first half throwing out all these threads and then the second half winding them back in and connecting them up and I'm sure they all mattered but it was hard to know. Still, I am glad I persevred and finished it, it was worth the effort.
  amyem58 | Jul 15, 2014 |
Unlike many so called classic texts I have read this one doesn't seem to have dated much. At least not in its first half. The writing is thought by scholars to have begun about 1809. As Salman Rushdie says in an attached blurb "...it reads like the most brilliant modern novel." I think that might be an effect of the recent English translation offered here that seems to give the text such a contemporary feel, like a modern-day historic novel.

The premise is that in the 1760s a Walloon officer named Alphonse (commissioned by Philip V) while traveling on leave in Andalucia, for centuries an Islamic land until the Reconquista, finds himself skirting a realm of ghosts, phantoms, specters, kindly bandits, storytelling gypsies and cabbalists. Because he does not at first succumb to the erotic offerings of these creatures--he has a very obnoxious sense of personal honor--he is able to preserve enough presence of mind to chronicle the many weird goings on.

The book is full of the so called Magic Realism used by Garcia Marquez and Rushdie himself. There are stories nested within stories nested within stories. The narrative is very straightforward. The characters wake up, go out, have dinner, come home, have sex, go to sleep, get up in the morning, and so on, and all of this action occurs during the briefest passages of text. There is the sense of the action moving full-tilt, almost out of control, but never really. It is only the impression created by the author's highly compressed style.

Among the treats offered by the narrative are vast underground hideouts carved out of the stone, sun-scorched landscapes à la Don Quixote, convincing erotic encounters between men and women, abrupt murders, sometimes by the score. At a haunted inn phantoms show up at the stroke of midnight, though it is not known from whence the tolling comes. A motif of two men hanged on a gibbet, supposedly brothers of the bandit Zoto, who tells his story here, recurs throughout the early pages. At night the men leave the gibbet and get into mischief.

There are strange elixirs to be drunk, seeming transportations through time and space, usually during a dream. On the whole the book a kind of onieric wonderland where men are men and women are women of a thankfully extinct old school, except when they're murdering succubi who only wish to eat young men because of the wonderful effect their blood has on the demonic constitution.

Then the Walloon officer succumbs, as he must, to the charms of the two Muslim women, who from the start have told him they are his cousins. A man who watches their erotic encounter sees only Alphonse sexually intimate with the two hanged men. From then on Alphonse seems to take some leave of his senses and is never sure if those Muslim women are his cousins / defacto wives or not. He sees them here in a pair of gypsy sisters, there in two women walking in the desert, but again it's not them. Later, he casts caution to the wind when he goes to meet them in an underground chambre d'amour. Who can blame him? It's either go insane or enjoy great if perhaps demonic sex with hot sisters!

In the meantime the gypsy leader tells his story, the geometer or mathematician tells his, the Wandering Jew tells his, the two Muslim "cousins" tell theirs, the male cabbalist tells his, the female cabbalist tells hers, and so on. All of the characters seek to tell stories that seem realistically within their realm of competence/experience. It is only the geometer's tale that seems to falter in the mid to late stages. One gets the impression that author Potocki had committed himself to a line of disquisition that he could not sustain. An astonishing novel of enormous complexity that is nevertheless highly readable, even difficult to put aside when sleep calls. Please read it.

PS. Some time later I began reading Matthew G. Lewis's The Monk. It seems unlikely that it was not a model for Potocki. ( )
3 vote William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (76 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Potocki, JanAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abbott, ElisabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bogliolo, G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bogliolo, GiovanniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caillois, RogerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Creutziger, WernerÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Devoto, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dongen, Kees vanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holierhoek, JeanneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kukulski, LeszekHerausgebersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacLean, IanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radrizzani, R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radrizzani, RenéEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radrizzani, RenéEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radrizzani, RenéEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radrizzani, ReneEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vancrevel, LaurensChronologysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Versteeg, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As an officer in the French army, I found myself at the seige of Saragossa. A few days after its fall, I was proceeding towards a remote corner of the town when I noticed a small, well-built house which appeared to me not to have been searched as yet by any Frenchman.
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