Around the World in 80 Books by David Damrosch review – an erudite tour of the author’s head

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Reading is question – an epic trek, a picaresque pursuit, a lyrical formation – and past twelvemonth it offered merchandise to those of america inactive itchy aft a regular circuit of the section park. Housebound successful London, I reread Dickens and wistfully accompanied his characters connected their perambulations done a metropolis that was retired of bounds to me. David Damrosch, a Harvard specializer successful comparative literature, projected himself further afield: erstwhile league dates successful Tokyo and a smattering of European venues were cancelled, helium decided to circumnavigate the globe without leaving his library.

Damrosch took his cue from Phileas Fogg, the London clubman who speeds crossed continents and oceans successful Jules Verne’s Around the World successful 80 Days. Needing to triumph a wager, Fogg bribes drivers and pilots to summation their velocity and desperately strips wood from a steamship successful mid-Atlantic to provender its furnace. Damrosch proceeds astatine a much leisurely pace, though helium occasionally makes weightless associative leaps arsenic if hitching a thrust successful a blistery aerial balloon.

He starts by trailing Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway arsenic she strolls done Westminster, past hops sideways to Arnold Bennett’s Clerkenwell. A detour to Baker Street entices him to travel Sherlock Holmes connected a “train of reasoning”; whisked on by a notional Eurostar, helium emerges successful Paris, wherever a way backmost to a remembered paradise unexpectedly opens for Proust successful the Bois de Boulogne. Subsequent forays instrumentality Damrosch done Africa, Asia and Latin America. Omitting Australia, helium past heads location to an land disconnected the seashore of Maine to implicit the grounds of his imaginary expedition.

This is nary round-up of the accustomed classics, similar Harold Bloom’s hieratic inventory of The Western Canon. The Bible is here, but Damrosch treats it arsenic the grounds of migrant workers oregon persecuted refugees and celebrates its “viral spread” astir a satellite “newly integrated” by Rome, whose empire it undermined. With the aforesaid seditious intent, Damrosch decolonises literature. When Keats work Homer, helium thought helium was voyaging done “realms of gold” and annexing their riches similar the explorer Cortés. Damrosch mistrusts specified expropriations: helium truthful includes poesy by the Aztec victims of the Spanish conquistadors, and applauds Derek Walcott for Creolising Homer’s sanction erstwhile helium translates Omeros into “our Antillean patois”.

An undertaking specified arsenic this risks seeming random, arsenic frantically improvised arsenic Fogg’s itinerary erstwhile helium misses an onward connection. Damrosch avoids diffuseness by seizing connected spatial coincidences. In Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow presents East Africa arsenic a warped replica of Manhattan: the dependable of the tribal potentate Dahfu resembles the hum from the energy substation connected 16th Street, and his shamanistic antics callback the costly mumbo-jumbo of the city’s psychotherapists. Epigrams and puns physique instant bridges betwixt epochs and idioms. The 17th-century Japanese writer Bashō bumps into Andy Warhol erstwhile a haiku praising him is recited during an occurrence of The Simpsons; the tribute, Damrosch says, confers connected Bashō “an aptly ephemeral immortality: 15 pixels of fame”. A quality successful Joyce’s Finnegans Wake asks, “Are we speachin d’anglas landage oregon are you sprakin oversea Djoytsch?”, which goads Damrosch to immoderate wordplay of his own. Ireland, helium says, is “a onshore that is astatine sea”, its insularity dissolved by Joyce’s oceanic Esperanto.

Joyce compounds languages, but Damrosch commutes betwixt them, and successful doing truthful helium rebukes “ethnic nationalism, isolationism, and the fearfulness of radical oregon ideas crossing borders”. One of his discoveries is Giambatista Viko, Or the Rape of African Discourse, an world satire by the Congolese novelist Georges Ngal; convinced that the publication needs to beryllium translated, Damrosch has done the occupation himself. He shares the religion of the Romanian writer Paul Celan, who successful looking backmost astatine the Holocaust declared that “there remained successful the midst of the losses 1 thing: language”. But for Damrosch, connection is ne'er conscionable 1 thing, since determination is ever different overseas lingua to survey with entree to a caller lit arsenic his reward, and this multilingual student recognises that not each connection is verbal. Selecting Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Dr Doolittle arsenic his 74th book, helium regrets that helium lacks the bully doctor’s “fluency successful the languages of horses, eagles and snails”.

Elsewhere, with a frisson of up-to-date alarm, helium notices that the storytellers successful Boccaccio’s Decameron person discontinue Florence to flight a pestilence, portion the stricken gypsy successful García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude contracts pellagra successful Persia, scurvy successful Malaya, leprosy successful Alexandria, beriberi successful Japan and the Black Death successful Madagascar. Is Damrosch himself travelling “around the satellite successful 80 plagues”? He request not person worried, due to the fact that his communicative abounds successful resurrections. Sherlock Holmes is mystically revived by the Tibetan novelist Jamyang Norbu, and the leader of Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility enjoys 3 successive rebirths. Visiting Tokyo, the writer James Merrill announces that each travel is simply a reincarnation and resolves that this volition beryllium “the 1 successful which I put myself similar flowers”.

Damrosch’s program is encyclopaedic but astatine the aforesaid clip fondly personal. He includes his ain snapshots of the pyramids successful Egypt, the godforsaken fortress astatine Masada, and immoderate Mayan temples successful the Mexico jungle. A section connected colonialism is illustrated by a representation of his parents, who aboriginal successful their matrimony ventured to the Philippines arsenic Anglican missionaries; there, his begetter learned the connection of the Igorot upland dwellers, with whom helium discussed theology, medicine and, of course, the weather. Inheriting this evangelism, Damrosch sees question arsenic a intelligence and motivation challenge, not Phileas Fogg’s brisk experimentation successful abbreviating abstraction and accelerating time. Around the World successful 80 Books takes america connected a circuit of the author’s planetary head, and portion expanding our cognition it enlarges our capableness for fellow-feeling.