Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Krasznahorkai establishes his own rules and rides a wave of exhilarating energy in this sprawling, nonpareil novel, which harkens back to early works such as Satantango but with the benefit of the Man Booker International Prize winner's mature powers. In a small Hungarian town, an eccentric and isolated genius known only as the Professor occupies a specially designed hut, ravaged by uncontrollable thoughts and trying to rid himself of "human imbecility" while keeping unsavory watch on his daughter. There will soon be more to watch: the ruined Baron Bela Wenckheim is returning home by train, in flight from his extensive gambling debts, only to fall in with a colorful collection of locals, all looking to take advantage of the Baron by one means or another. There's the roughneck regulars of the local pub, the scheming town mayor looking to gin up excitement over the Baron's return for his own visibility, and the con man Dante of Szolnok, whom the Baron encounters casually only to find he has his fingers in any pie from which he can extract a profit. The one bright spot in this Greek chorus of rogues is Marika, the Baron's childhood sweetheart, whose romantic desires to reunite with the refined boy she remembers will be tested by corrosive new realities. This vortex of a novel compares neatly with Dostoevsky and shows Krasznahorkai at the absolute summit of his decades-long project. Apocalyptic, visionary, and mad, it flies off the page and stays lodged intractably wherever it lands. (Sept.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A daunting experimental novel by Hungarian writer Krasznahorkai (The World Goes On, 2017, etc.), who blends his trademark interests in philosophy and apocalypse.The baron of the title is an "unspeakably elegant" member of the erstwhile Habsburg nobility of Hungary who has been living in exile in Argentina until, finally, his debts at the casino catch up to him. Nostalgic and elderly, though still given to dandyish ways, he returns to the countryside haunts of his youth, hoping along the way to rekindle a long-ago romance with a woman whom, late in the story, a factotum likens to Cervantes' Dulcinea del Toboso. The baron is no Quixote, though the Hungary to which he returns has no end of windmills against which to tiltincluding oil derricks everywhere. Krasznahorkai fills his pages with knowing nods to European nationalism: An Austrian train conductor, for instance, sniffs that "even they"the Hungarians on the other side of the border"had been trying to conform to European standards" when it came to safety, schedule, and other things train conductors are supposed to worry about. The baron cuts a memorable figure, but the real star of Krasznahorkai's story is a philosopher who has cut himself off from society and lives in hermitage in a forest park, concerned with problems of being and nonbeing: "Everything is a kind of philosophical boxing match that leads only to non-existence, and this is, in all likelihood, the greatest error of existence." Even the erstwhile professor has his prejudices, grumbling along with the townsfolk about the gypsies who have dared pitch their own camp nearby. Krasznahorkai tends to long, digressive passages that build on and allude to other pieces, and the word "non-existence" turns up often enough to suggest a theme. But no matter: In the end, the worlds the philosopher, the baron, and other characters inhabit are slated to disappear in a wall of flame, an apocalypse that, as Krasznahorkai assures, is not just physical and actual, but also existential.A challenge for readers unused to endless sentences and unbroken paragraphs but worth the slog for its wealth of ideas. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.