Youth Without Youth by Mircea Eliade could be classified as science fiction but then so could Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka. An elderly Romanian scholar, Dominic, is struck by lightening and finds that his body has begun to rejuvinate and that his failing memory has been restored and amplified.
His case attracts international attention and he is secreted away by the Romanian authorities. The first part of the novel takes part in the late 1930s and Dominic is smuggled out of the country when it is learned that the Gestapo want to get hold of him.
He had devoted his life's work to the rise of civilization and the link between language and consciousness and his increased mental powers allow him to continued that work. But now rather than studying a book he can simply hold it and absorb it contents and a brief glance at a grammar book enables him to master a new language.
The more fantastic elements of this novella allow Eliade to explore broader themes about the human consciousness, the unconscious, the nature of time and memory. Dominic's physical rejuvenation has also resulted in a split in his mind where alter egos seem to take on a physical form.
He lives out the Second World War in anonymity in Switzerland and his story becomes a myth circulating in certain academic circles.
In the 1950s he meets a young woman called Veronica who has been left traumatised after her car was struck by lightening. Dominic recognises the language that she speaks as a version of Sanskrit spoken in northern India 1,400 years earlier. She tells Dominic that her names is Rupini and that she had been meditating in a cave when a lightning bolt caused rocks to cave in on top of her. When she awoke she was in another cave but did not recognise the world around her.
Dominic travels with Veronica other academics to India and they discover a cave where a woman's body sitting in a meditating position is found. The sight of her skull shocks Veronica back into reality and the academics use her case as definitive proof of transmigration of the soul.
Veronica and Dominic flee the publicity that follows them to Malta but Veronica continues to have regressions going back further and further in time, speaking ancient languages, that Dominic records, until her utterances are almost primal wails. However, the mental strain of these regressions take a physical toll and she ages prematurely. Dominic leaves her, telling her that when he is gone she will regain her youth.
Eastern philosophy, Jungian psychology, linguistics and even James Joyce's Finegan's Wake all make appearances in the novel. The film version, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is fairly faithful to the novel but seems to get tangled up in itself.
Eliade wrote a novel of ideas and trying to transfer that into a movie format forces Coppola into contrived cinematography. The result is not unsatisfying and in a way it complements the novel but as a piece of cinema it doesn't quite work.
Also recently finished was Manuel Vazquez Montlaban's Southern Seas featuring the Barcelona detective Pepe Carvalho. This was my third Montalban novel, although it predates the other two.
Carvalho is a thinking detective who enjoys good food and wine who has been hired by the wife of a wealthy businessman whose body was found on a building site in Barcelona.
The murder victim's family, colleagues, friends and lovers had thought he had been travelling in the Pacific Ocean, following in the wake of the 19th century painter Paul Gauguin.
However, Carvalho discovers he had been living in a tough working class development in Barcelona built for profit by the murder victim and his colleagues with little thought for the people who would live there.
Montalban uses his novels as a commentary on contemporary Spain and this one, set in the late 1970s mulls over the state of ongoing flux as Spain emerges from the dictatorship of Franco into a parliamentary democracy. Yet it is still an elite who seem to govern while a huge underclass are merely expected to exist.
As with his other novels Montalban throws in the obligatory over-the-top sex scene and a couple of recipes.
Favourite music at the minute comes from Jah Wobble on his album Chinese Dub.
The former PiL bass player has long being carving out a a niche career as a world music champion. On this album he takes traditional Chinese instruments and tunes and sets them to a background of dub reggae. It shouldn't, but somehow it works.