NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2022 by the New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, The Financial Times, Words Without Borders
A highly-acclaimed master work of fiction from Cărtărescu, author of Blinding: an existence (and eventually a cosmos) created by forking paths.
Based on Cărtărescu's own role as a high school teacher, Solenoid begins with the mundane details of a diarist's life and quickly spirals into a philosophical account of life, history, philosophy, and mathematics. One character asks another: when you rush into the burning building, will you save the newborn or the artwork? On a broad scale, the novel’s investigations of other universes, dimensions, and timelines reconcile the realms of life and art.
The novel is grounded in the reality of late 1970s/early 1980s Communist Romania, including long lines for groceries, the absurdities of the education system, and the misery of family life. The text includes sequences in a tuberculosis sanatorium, an encounter with an anti-death protest movement, a society of dream investigators, and an extended visit to the miniscule world of dust mites living on a microscope slide.
Combining fiction with autobiography and history— the scientists Nicolae Tesla and George Boole, for example, appear alongside the Voynich manuscript—Solenoid ruminates on the exchanges possible between the alternate dimensions of life and art, as various, monstrous dimensions erupt within the Communist present.
Solenoid . . . is a novel made from other novels, a meticulously borrowed piece of hyperliterature. Kleist’s cosmic ambiguity, the bureaucratic terror of Kafka, the enchantments of García Márquez and Bruno Schulz’s labyrinths are all recognizable in Cărtărescu’s anecdotes, dreams and journal entries. That fictive texture is part and parcel of the novel’s sense of unreality, which not only blends the pedestrian and the bizarre, but also commingles many features of the literary avant-garde. Although the narrator himself is largely critical of literature . . . he also affirms the possibility inherent in the “bitter and incomprehensible books” he idolizes. In this way, he plays both critic and apologist throughout, a delicious dialectic whose final, ravishing synthesis exists in the towering work of Solenoid" —Dustin Illingworth, New York Times
"Instead of delivering a sharp, succinct punch, Solenoid goes the way of the oceanic—rejecting brevity because the author, a Romanian Daedalus, is laying the foundation for a narrative labyrinth . . . The writing itself is hypnotic and gorgeously captures the oneiric quality of Cărtărescu’s Bucharest . . . Cotter’s translation is attentive to the efficiency of Cărtărescu’s ornate but surprisingly approachable prose, gliding from sentence to sentence and calling little attention to itself. The sheer immensity of Cotter’s undertaking combined with the unfailing evenness of the translation’s quality is nothing short of remarkable." —Ben Hooyman, Los Angeles Review of Books
"The great fun of this teeming hodge-podge is the way that Mr. Cărtărescu tweaks the material of daily life, transmuting the banal into the fantastical." —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
"A masterwork of Kafkaesque strangeness, brilliantly conceived and written." —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[S]omething of a masterpiece . . . Solenoid synthesizes and subtly mocks elements of autofiction and history fiction by way of science fiction. The result is unlike any genre in ambition or effect, something else altogether, a self-sufficient style that proudly rejects its less emancipated alternatives…The mesmerizing beauty of creation, of reality giving way to itself: that, above all, lies behind the doors of Solenoid." —Federico Perelmuter, Astra Magazine