Early this century Enrico, a young intellectual, leaves the abundantly diverse Austro-Hungarian city of Gorizia with its mixed population and culture, to spend several years living on the Patagonian pampas, alone with his ancient Greek texts, his flocks and every now and then a woman. He has been taught by his closest friend, Carlo, a philosopher/poet who commits suicide in his early twenties, to search for an authentic life, free of social falsehoods. But in his search for this unattainable goal, Enrico destroys every chance he has of a normal existence; even after his return to live a life of ever-increasing isolation by the Istrian seashore, his attempts at human intercourse, at meaningful love, are thwarted. In recounting the life and character of Enrico, ostensibly one of Life's failures, Claudio Magris paints a remarkably shrewd and observant picture of a whole world in ferment, that of the decaying Austro-Hungarian empire, shaken to its foundations by the Great War, and emerging from the German occupation and the Communist revolution ripe for disintegration and forever seeking, as does Enrico, for a reason to go on living.
“Magris is one of those intellectuals whose gnomic playfulness can both infuriate and fascinate.”