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For Isabel: A Mandala by Antonio Tabucchi. Book Review

September 20, 2017


Tadeus Slowacki, a writer, goes to Lisbon searching for a girl he once knew. But his search for her whereabouts and the truth of what really happened to her is far from straightforward as he sets about following the trail of breadcrumbs populated by people who also once knew her.

A mandala is a ritual symbol used as a focus of meditation. In this case the mandala consists of nine circles set one inside the other as Tadeus meets the different people who have one way or another been involved with Isabel’s life.

With its quiet ways and careful observations of the minutiae of people and life, the novel is indeed a meditation as Tadeus contemplates his past and interviews of the people in each circle. This is a subtle book which appears, like Isabel’s life, to be a series of episodes simply narrated by Tadeus. Yet Antonio Tabucchi, holds the reader between a state of tension and anticipation of the outcome of each interview and thoughtful contemplation of Tadeus’s experiences.

For Isabel: A Mandala is an ethereal book because not only does Isabel prove elusive, but Tadeus himself is far from substantial. At one point a photographer takes a picture of Tadeus holding a photograph of Isabel, but only the photograph of Isabel can be seen in the photographer’s polaroid.

This is a book to be read more than once to squeeze everything out of it, and a valuable reference for a writer with regards to how to tell an effective and affecting story without embellishment.

Mention also should go to Elizabeth Harris’s smooth translation which manages to bring out the quality of Tabucchi’s writing.

For Isabel: A Mandala was courtesy of Archipelago Books via NetGalley.

From → Book Review, Literary

  1. Elizabeth Harris permalink

    Thanks for the review! –Elizabeth Harris

    • You’re welcome. I always appreciate the work of the translator. Unfortunately it is always invisible if well done. So thank you.

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