In 1953, an unknown German writer with a 1,000 page novel met with astonishment and success. Paul Celan hailed it as ‘a genuine work of art’, Siegfried Lenz wrote in Die Welt am Sonntag, ‘If any book deserves to be called an event, it is this’ and in 1999, Maarten t’Hart proclaimed in Die Zeit, ‘The greatest book of the century is Die Insel des zweiten Gesichts by Albert Vigoleis Thelen.’
Based on the author’s own experiences in the 1930s on the Spanish island of Majorca in the years just prior to the Spanish Civil War, this is an enormously engaging book. Robert Graves and the Counts Harry Kessler and Hermann Keyserling were among the island’s then residents, and all three get a look in. The tradition is picaresque, the style ironic, the detail often hilarious and the prose self-consciously elaborate. A memorable evocation of an enchanting haven before the age of mass tourism, it is also the portrait of a young, politically uncommitted German artist and intellectual in voluntary exile from the political turmoil of his homeland.
A connoisseur’s rather than a run-of-the-mill purchase in German bookshops, this novel has been carefully and lovingly translated into English by Donald O. White, Professor Emeritus at Amherst College in the USA, who worked with Thelen. A delightful ‘gem’ indeed.