The Opportune Moment, 1855
Publishers Weekly, 02/21/2011
Patrik Ourednik, trans. from the Czech by Alex Zucker, Dalkey Archive, $12.95 trade paper (136p). ISBN 978-1-56478-596-1
A treasure of historical and imaginative detail converge in this fascinating work about a group of disenchanted Europeans who travel to Brazil in the mid-19th century to start a utopian society. The aged founder of the experimental settlement begins the narrative in 1902 as a letter to his first love, Julia, and works his way backward: Italian and illegitimate by birth, he was early on fired up by Enlightenment ideals and so disgusted by conventions and prejudices of the day that he proposed the abolition of marriage and a kind of gleeful disorganization of society. Subsequently, in diary entries that grow gradually more discombobulated over the months from January to October 1855, another writer – one of the original utopia seekers – exposes via simple, plainspoken writings his bamboozlement by the fiery exhortations of the ship’s anarchists and communists, and, eventually, reveals how the exalted experiment descends into petty bickering, disputes, grandstanding, fights over women, and general debauchery – practical anarchy, in short. Ourednik (Case Closed) fashions a cleverly satirical commentary on the bare-knuckled realities of what happens when grand (and often naïve) ideas are put into practice.