With his Proust-like ramblings, Europes is Jacques Réda's entertaining reflection upon the various selves that surface in different locales across the continent. In fact, often the named country provides only the most tangential entry point for the inner world into which he dives. Take for example a passage from “Switzerland. IV. The Eagle”:
We had the feeling of belonging to a collegial club for the chosen few: we had seen the eagle.
This is how revealed religions and their martyrs are born. Had we been threatened with irons, fire, boiling hot oil, we would still have persisted: “an eagle, the Eagle, I saw it, I'm telling you. My Belgian friend was with me.”
These are the thoughts of a man who is much more concerned with his inner landscapes than ones the train passes through, one who tells the reader about what he would like to have seen rather than the reality that disappointed him.
But how to make such direct introspection palatable? The key is the self-deprecating, distracted tone; it gives the impression that Réda is musing aloud while ambling through the countryside rather than fuming into his laptop. Hence, consistency is not important. Rather, by affecting his limited physical and cognitive powers, he disarms the reader into being very indulgent of his philosophizing. And it carries all the whimsical, cerebral playfulness that is quintessentially French.
Consider, again from “The Eagle,” “I wouldn't have confused it with a vulture . . . nor with a condor, which wouldn't exist in the Alps. And let's be sensible: if I thought I'd seen a condor, it would be formal proof that it was indeed an eagle.”
Or, from “Dresden's Black and Gold” after describing his rather poor navigation, “a vague impulse of this kind asserted itself, a new trepidation soon offered me a means of intuitively resolving the dilemma. I was tacking.”
But Réda does not need to rely on humor, and this is the evidence that we have something of more serious power. Consider, from “Tram 28,” “Certainly electricity doesn't age (or so I imagine), but its modes of production have changed to the point of banishing allegorical representations. So much so that the survival of equipment dating from ladies veiled in tulle . . . maintains the illusion that the housing feeds off an inexhaustible reservoir of vintage watts.”
Given Réda's preference in this volume for long, rambling prose, the poetry was a welcome contrast, and executed just as well. It also tends toward the narrative, but drops the “affect of unsurity” of his prose, leaving fairly direct statements, with just the right amount of indefiniteness in the better ones. Here is the last stanza from “The Lispoet”:
Although with pleasure I note: on this square in Lisbon
where he stays exposed to pigeons' insults, to rain,
for the ten-voiced poet who literally was “no one”
they had the sensitivity to not inscribe a name.
A note on the translation by Aaron Prevots. It generally flows, adhering reasonably well to the French. A few rambling affects and turns of phrase have been muted, losing some of the effect, but the English is also an enjoyable read. Special mention of the poetry translations: Prevots has kept at least a semblance of most of the rhyme schemes, often settling for a abcb from an original abab. There are some stumbles, however this is more than made up for in “Arroz y Luna”, where he transcends the original:
Somber days all alike,
The colorless towns
With Sundays' lightning
And the white or black of country;
Love, white bread of suffering;
The fire of memory.