Belen Gopegui’s The Scale of Maps – Cervantes, Nabokov and Borges In One Book

Words Without Borders has a review of Belen Gopegui’s The Scale of Maps. The book is interesting sounding even though the review is slightly mixed. I’ve never heard of this writer before, so she comes a bit under the radar for me. It is also interesting that she is one of the few women authors translated from Spanish into English, which makes this book unique. You can read an excerpt of the book at World Literature Today.

Who is this strange man charting a fantastical, solitary course?  Gopegui has been compared to Cervantes and Nabokov, and it’s easy to see Prim as a kind of windmill-battling Pnin.  Prim’s labyrinthine imaginings could easily place him in a work of Borges as well.  Prim is a geography student who doesn’t like to travel; he’s a young old man “sporting his first gray hairs, a short man with a large head, a man alone and full of sorrow.”  After abandoning architecture studies and joining the army, “a general lack of direction” brings Prim to the study of geography.  He gets a job writing reports for a government agency that serves to “thicken the purportedly indispensable annals of bureaucracy.”  He marries and then separates from a dark-haired woman named Lucia.  He keeps to himself.


But she stops short of letting him conquer his shortcomings, and here it becomes difficult to distinguish Prim’s excesses from the novel’s. “Trust me, Mr. Prim, one cannot lock oneself within a conviction as one might within a book,” Prim’s psychologist says, her sympathies for her patient dwindling.  But in the final pages of The Scale of Maps, Prim does just that, retreating into those diaphanous notes of his feelings and thoughts like a solitary artist answering the call of his creativity.  But of course it’s ultimately a failure of imagination that drives Prim into reclusiveness; in the end he can neither picture nor push himself to try to live a life that exists outside the world mapped in his mind. Is it Prim’s fault or the fault of Gopegui’s vision? In The Scale of Maps, it all depends on the reader’s perspective

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