Tierra seca, aire polvoriento, piedras desmoronadas.
La tierra crujía bajo sus pies, el aire le quemaba los pulmones, las piedras le entorpecian la marcha. El mayoral Séptimo perseguía a los ejotes entre las ruinas de Pampa del Desamparo.
En el cielo encapotado, el Arco de Urania vibraba a la luz de los relámpagos. Las convulsiones del cielo se reflejaban en el camafeo profético que el mayoral llevaba colgado del cuello. Sin detenerse, Séptimo alzó el camafeo, miró los caracteres labrados. (p. 11)
Dry earth, dusty air, crumbling rocks.
The earth crunched under his feet, the air burned his lungs, the rocks obstructed his movement. The shepherd Séptimo sought after string beans among the ruins of the Plain of Abandonment.
In the cloudy sky, the Arc of Uranus vibrated to the light of the lightning flashes. The sky's convulsions were reflected in the prophetic cameo that the shepherd wore hanging from his neck. Without stopping, Séptimo lifted up the cameo, looking at the embroidered characters.
This beginning to Argentine writer Carlos Gardini's most recent novel, Tríptico de Trinidad, is emblematic of his narrative approach. Divided into three sections, Gardini utilizes series of three, in his construction of scenes, in his cosmology, and in his characterizations, to create a narrative effect that resonates as the story progresses. From the very beginning of this book until its conclusion 261 pages later, I found myself being drawn in by Gardini's rhythmic prose.
Gardini has won several Spanish-language awards, including the UPC for short fiction twice, over his career and in this 2010 novel, he displays a mastery of prose and theme that few authors have managed to achieve in any language. The story is, on the surface, a rather simple one: The leader of the city of Trinidad, the Ducásima (a mage and visionary who protects the laws and soul of the city), has been poisoned. The Axis of the World is in danger. From the search for the antidote for this poison, the story blossoms into a reflection of the nature of the world created and an exploration into the motives found within us.
As I note above, there is a lot of symbolism that surrounds the number three. Gardini does an outstanding job exploring the cosmology of this Trinidad setting, questioning not just how and why there is a divine-like figure, but also on how societies are organized, how people interact, and how we view the world surrounding us. There are many odd adventures that befall the characters involved in this quest for the antidote. Although some may lament that these characters are not "well-developed," it appears that Gardini purposely keeps them at a near tabula rasa level in order to accentuate the dissonance that exists in several of the scenes. In particular, I enjoyed the scenes involving the catechumens and the themes regarding religion and belief that Gardini explores there. It is not a typical fantasy quest adventure, where the heroes seek an object. Here, it seems the quest itself serves as a realized metaphor for how we humans seek to establish order and to create systems of understanding for the wild, chaotic world around us. Although there are times that these thematic explorations get a little confusing, on the whole, I found myself entranced by the story.
I would cite more of Gardini's prose to show how he uses tripartite symbolism to drive this story, but there is much lost in translation, unfortunately. But perhaps this one little chapter opener, for the 17th chapter, might underscore this point:
Basilisca habla, Séptimo escucha, Ostremón mira los frisos de la sala conciliar. (p. 117)There is almost a chant-like rhythm to passages like this and Gardini employs this to great effect later in the novel. This creates a greater awareness of the philosophical and cosmological questions that are being raised throughout this novel. This greater awareness in turn causes the reader to focus not just on the story at hand, but the underlying motives behind the story. Gardini's poetic repetitions thus serve to create a sort of ripple effect through the narrative, as little scenes end up being magnified due to how they are presented and this in turn adds a gravity to the work that would otherwise be lacking if it were told in a more conventional fashion.
Basilisca speaks, Séptimo listens, Ostremón looks at the friezes of the conciliar room.
It is very difficult to discuss this novel without wanting to devote thousands of words to its themes and their applications throughout the text. Constrained by the limitations of reviews as opposed to literary critiques, I find myself circling around the edges of this book here in this review. Not wanting to "spoil" the reading experience for those bilingual readers such as myself who may be curious about a "deep" fantasy work, all I can say is that Gardini is an extremely talented writer who has created one of the deepest, most philosophical fantasy novels that I have ever read in any language. There are no real good comparisons to what he has accomplished here. Perhaps I could cite some of Gene Wolfe's works, but those are more oblique references to human cosmologies than what Gardini has written here. In less than 300 pages, he constructs a vivid setting, introduces some intriguing conflicts, and then tops it off with a conclusion that has the reader wanting to re-read the entire book in light of what is revealed. If that is not a strong testimony to what Gardini has accomplished here, then I would be hard pressed to think of anything better to describe this outstanding novel.