The OF Blog: Best of 2007 Countdown: Michael Cisco, The Traitor

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Best of 2007 Countdown: Michael Cisco, The Traitor

I will write down now who I am and some of my story, not so that you who read this, if there is anyone there, may understand me, since, in any case, you can't understand me; there is no way my story could make you understand me. I'm writing my story to prove that I understand it, and I can't help repeating it over and over to myself simply because that is all there is left of me. I favor it more for the useless details that remind me of how I used to be, not that I miss anything. Now I am nothing at all like I was, although I believe I am now what I had originally intended to be.

I write this first so I may arrive at my testament through these memories, as I arrived at where I am now through these times I'm remembering. If I don't write beautifully, it's because I'm trying to be honest, and because the taste of blood in my mouth reminds me how little time remains for me, how litle time there is to polish words.
Nophtha, the first-person narrator of Michael Cisco's The Traitor, is a spirit eater, charged with bringing spirits into himself, preventing malady and madness while allowing people to let go of the spirits of the past. He was commissioned by his government to hunt down a soul burner (one who consumed the spirits for personal aggrandizement rather than for the social good) named Wite. However, as Nophtha's fevered and deranged journal will show, Nophtha ends up betraying his commission, instead seeking to become like Wite (now like a force of nature), but failing rather miserably at the end.

While the paragraph above gives a skeleton outline of the novel, one has to read this with a mindset similar to what one would need for reading and appreciating Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground. Like Dostoyevsky's nameless narrator, Nophtha is a spirit being consumed from within. The passages contained within this short 149 page novel are full of sentiments such as the one I quoted above and this one:

I will die and die and die but I am ready, I'm going stronger than I came, I will die spitting the saliva of my outrage at them, moreover coughing the bloody pieces of my testament at them, my gentle guards and the soldiers down below, the city all around and the palace out of my sight and their brainless music-box of a King. I won't die cowering I have my Wite and Tzdze Tamt and "blunder" Illan and Voy, Xchte and uncle Heckler and tired dying imaginary Nophtha on the floor writing in his cell and seizing you at the last moment, I'm rising for the last time to seize you for one more moment, the gleam of Wite's spectacles is hovering over your shoulder! No one will be spared, whatever so-called good deeds you've done, your tepidity and every so-called evil soul in the world will be devastated all the same.
In the end, this "traitor" has performed so many acts of betrayal on so many levels, that a close reading of this fevered narrative will almost certainly inspire reactions ranging from empathy to outright disgust in the reader. The Traitor stands out among the 2007 releases that I have read due to its vivid imagery and the masterful way that Cisco uses the deranged first-person narrative to create a world that is full of shadows (light as well as darkness), hinting at a profoundness that goes deeper than the narrator's own twisted pathway to a personal hell of his own making.

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