The Island of Second Sight

The Island of Second Sight

Albert Vigoleis Thelen

Fiction / Translations

Available for the first time in English, The Island of Second Sight is a masterpiece of world literature, first published in Germany in 1953 and hailed by Thomas Mann as "one of the greatest books of the twentieth century." Set on Mallorca in the 1930s in the years leading up to World War II, it is the fictionalized account of the time spent there by author--writing as Vigoleis, his alter-ego--and his wife, Beatrice, lured to the island by Beatrice’s dying brother, who, as it turns out not dying at all but broke and ensnared by the local prostitute. Pursued by both the Nazis and Spanish Francoists, Vigoleis and Beatrice embark on a series of the most unpredictable and surreal adventures in order to survive. Low on money, the couple seeks shelter in a brothel for the military, serves as tour guides to groups of German tourists, and befriends such literary figures Robert Graves and Harry Kessler, as well as the local community of smugglers, aristocrats, and exiled German Jews. Vigoleis with his inventor hat on even creates a self-inflating brassiere. Then the Spanish Civil War erupts, presenting new challenges to their escape plan. Throughout, Vigoleis is an irresistibly engaging narrator; by turns amusing, erudite, naughty, and always utterly entertaining. Drawing comparisons to Don Quixote and The Man Without Qualities, The Island of Second Sight is a novel of astonishing and singular richness of language and purpose; the story is picaresque, the voice ironic, the detail often hilarious, yet it is a work of profound seriousness, with an anti-war, anti-fascist, humanistic attitude at its core. With a style ranging from the philosophical to the grotesque, the colloquial to the arcane, The Island of Second Sight is a literary tour de force. From BooklistStarred Review On this balcony, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. With a bit of mischievously mendacious literary history, Vigo—the narrator-protagonist of this brilliant novel—gulls credulous German tourists. Based on the five difficult years that author Thelen and his wife, Beatrice, spent on Mallorca in the 1930s, this novel delivers the gritty texture of lived experience. But as Vigo recounts his (mis)adventures, readers realize that, like Cervantes’ visionary knight, Vigo sees things others do not. While living in a dirty Mallorcan bordello, Vigo transforms himself into a chivalric champion defending his beloved against threatening dragon-rats. Like Quixote assaulting windmill-giants, Vigo declares war against his Nazified German homeland—by buying an American typewriter rather than a German one. But Vigo’s quixotic crusade takes on a dangerously real edge when he uses his typewriter to denounce the führer. Yet, like Quixote escaping from a perilously enchanted castle, Vigo and his wife escape from an island descending into the maelstrom of civil war. To be sure, this modern Quixote wields a sardonic sense of humor quite lacking in his literary predecessor. But that humor finally becomes Vigo’s own imaginative weapon against an all-too-ugly reality. Readers will thank a gifted translator for finally making this masterpiece—acclaimed by Thomas Mann—available to English speakers. --Bryce Christensen Review"A genuine work of art."(- Paul Celan) "A masterpiece."(- Times Literary Supplement) "Worthy of a place alongside On the Marble Cliffs, Berlin Alexanderplatz, The Death of Virgil and other modernist German masterworks; a superb, sometimes troubling work of postwar fiction, deserving the widest possible audience."(Kirkus Reviews,) "A charming if exhausting blend of cultural self-examination and picaresque adventure…Even when the author-narrator’s observations prove overwhelming, his cultural insights, historical laments, literary references, and abundant wit make this first English translation (by Amherst professor White) and the book itself a literary achievement."(Publishers Weekly) "[A] brilliant novel…Readers will thank a gifted translator for finally making this masterpiece--acclaimed by Thomas Mann--available to English-speakers."(Booklist, starred review)
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