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Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique: Lenz Buchmann's Position in the World (Portuguese Literature)by Goncalo M. Tavares
Since publishing his first book some 10 years ago, Gonçalo Tavares has gone on to write more than a dozen others. The Angolan-born Portuguese writer has won a number of prestigious literary awards and received accolades from around the world. Were his storytelling skills not already well apparent in Jerusalem, the first of his works to be translated into English, Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique confirms the immense talent of Gonçalo Tavares.
Only the second of his works yet translated into English (save for an apparent few titles published by a very small press in India), Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique is a dark, often disturbing novel, one that probes the depths of ambition, power, and the human capacity for calculated cruelty. Lenz Buchmann, an accomplished surgeon, is malcontent with the limitations of his career (despite having achieved an almost flawless level of proficiency), and decides to turn his steady hand to the realm of politics. Per his resolute will, Buchmann quickly ascends the party ranks into a position of considerable power within city government. His loathing of weakness and disdain for all those he perceives as such leads him to reject family and foe alike (except for the veneration of his late father). As Buchmann lusts for ever greater dominance and control, an illness waylays his plans and leaves him a defeated, helpless shell of his former self.
Throughout Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique, Buchmann commits acts of utter reprehensibility, with a disregard for others that borders on the sociopathic. Buchmann's actions are often without consequence to himself, as he is intent on his own concentration of power and prestige, absent of any concern for others. The violence (often sexual) that permeates Buchmann's life, from youth onward, has made him all but incapable of human compassion or emotion. If he has become a mechanized version of himself, set to conquer and overtake, he does so not so much out of immorality but, rather, amorality. Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique is a distinguished work, composed with precision and characterized by a bold, stark prose. Gonçalo Tavares seems to be electrifying the international literary scene, and with works like this it's of no wonder why.
To prolong one's lifespan, that most existential of questions, was Lenz believed merely to provide an additional period for the incubation of hatred, for the incubation of the battles and disjunctions between the opinions, aims, and customs of various human beings. It was quite clear to Lenz, each time he saved a person's life by way of some surgical procedure, that he was saving only one man a statistical nonentity. Statistics are a precise way of demonstrating indifference.
Recommended by Jeremy, Powell's City of Books
Synopses & Reviews
In a city not quite of any particular era, a distant and calculating man named Lenz Buchmann works as a surgeon, treating his patients as little more than equations to be solved: life and death no more than results to be worked through without the least compassion. Soon, however, Buchmann's ambition is no longer content with medicine, and he finds himself rising through the ranks of his country's ruling party . . . until a diagnosis transforms this likely future president from a leading player into just another victim. In language that is at once precise, clinical, and oddly childlike, Gonçalo M. Tavares--the Portuguese novelist hailed by José Saramago as the greatest of his generation--here brings us another chilling investigation into the limits of human experience, mapping the creation and then disintegration of a man we might call "evil," and showing us how he must learn to adapt in a world he can no longer dominate.
"In his personal life, unsavory, combative protagonist Lenz Buchmann displays a 'total dissolution of moral values,' while his professional life as an acclaimed surgeon is 'the one moral stronghold he still maintained.' Tavares (Jerusalem), winner of the SaramagoÂ Prize, uses Lenz to examine philosophical questions on subjects ranging from the power of surnames to the fearsome grandeur of ancient architecture. After determining that medicine no longer satisfies him, Lenz, believing in his superiority, embarks on a political career, and discovers that he is not immutable. Though the novel offers hedonistic acts, methodical pacing, occasionally naturalistic views, and a portrait of a man driven by ambition as well as memories of his father, this is, in the end, a time-honored take on comeuppance. Despite the careful layering of earthy vignettes and the unusual interpretation of human cruelty, the novel remains too discursive to have real emotional impact, and the conclusion yields few surprises. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The second installment in Tavares's acclaimed "Kingdom" series.
About the Author
Gonçalo M. Tavares was born in 1970. He has published numerous books since 2001 and has been awarded an impressive number of literary prizes in a very short time, including the Saramago Prize in 2005.Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor, researcher, and translator. His translations include Creole (2002), The Book of Chameleons (2006), My Father's Wives (2008), and Rainy Season (2009), by Angolan novelist José Eduardo Agualusa.
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