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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

or The Miracles of Science

Jules Romains

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To purchase Donogoo-Tonka

Title: Donogoo-Tonka
Author: Jules Romains
Genre: Novel
Written: 1920 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 129 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Donogoo-Tonka - US
Donogoo-Tonka - UK
Donogoo-Tonka - Canada
Donogoo-Tonka - Canada (French)
Donogoo-Tonka - India
Donogoo Tonka - France
  • A Cinematographic Tale
  • French title: Donogoo Tonka; ou, Les miracles de la science
  • Translated by Brian Evenson
  • With an Afterword by Joan Oakman.
  • Later adapted by Romains into a play, Donogoo-Tonka
  • Made into a film in 1936, by Reinhold Schünzel

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Our Assessment:

B : unusual but quite remarkable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator* . 15/11/1930 Richard Jennings
TLS . 29/7/1920 R.E.G.Aldington

(*: review of the stage version)

  From the Reviews:
  • "On this fantastic dream the scenes are built, Donogoo is built, the Professor's reputation is built, the fortunes of millions are made.... All the time, amidst the rapidly changing scenes, watching the electrical lifts come up and down, with inevitable delays, drop-curtains and savage incidental music, you cannot help thinking how much better and swifter the cinema would do the whole business. (...) But M. Romains certainly excels in exhibiting the swelling formation of mob opinion, the spreading influence of rumour, the manias of the herd-soul." - Richard Jennings, The Spectator

  • "It is the kind of genial farce -- like Les Copains -- in which M.Romains excels (.....) The whole thing is amusing anexciting; will some enterprising cinema manager produce M.Romain's "film" for us ?" - Richard Edward Godfree Aldington, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Donogoo-Tonka is unusual in its presentation: a novel as A Cinematographic Tale, it isn't quite a screenplay. A silent-era fiction, it seems to be tailored to that short-lived cinematographic form -- for example, in employing text-boxes that provide description, dialogue, and images (generally of texts, including newspaper articles and letters) while the scenes themselves contain relatively little dialogue. Yet it's clear, too, that as written it is unrealizable as film, and that much of the art of it is distinctly novelistic.
       So, for example, there are descriptions such as:

     The object of his gaze is displayed on the screen: an entire immense lounge, without other furnishings than a pedestal table and seats, but swollen and crackling with delirium.
     Absurdity, oozing out of so many brains, becomes palpable.
       The story, in its basic outlines, is fairly simple. A depressed Lamendin, complaining that his "soul is failing", seeks the advice of a psychotherapist (and "suicide specialist"), whose proposed remedy leads Lamendin to professor Yves le Trouhadec, who has his own troubles. Le Trouhadec's great ambition is to be named a member of the French Institute, but his election is in doubt, his rivals having spread the word that le Trouhadec's study of the city of Donogoo-Tonka, in deepest Brazil, is all a fraud (as, in fact, it is).
       Lamendin is inspired:
I could, from here, try to found the city of Donogoo-Tonka, since I believe I've understood that it doesn't yet exist.
       A staged film purporting to show the distant city, "a heavy-duty scientific lecture", and soon enough even a prospectus for potential investors: the ruse becomes ever more convincing. So too does the investment-opportunity -- helped by some cinematic-novelistic trickery:
The maid brings in the mail. The first envelope, when opened, lets out the prospectus for Donogoo-Tonka. The man skims it, without ceasing to eat his bread and butter. But watch how the twelve letters Donogoo-Tonka rise up, tear themselves free, escape from the paper and start scurrying, one after another, on the table, like a band of little mice.
       The reality of Donogoo-Tonka poses something of a problem -- there's nothing to it, after all -- yet all those rushing to it, and the capital involved, lead inevitably to the only solution: to create what was supposedly already there. A real Donogoo-Tonka rises on the imagined Donogoo-Tonka. It's farcical, of course -- and sensibly, then, it is decreed, when all is said and done, that: "The worship of Scientific Error is obligatory throughout" the territory.
       Creatively using this hybrid cinematic-novel form, Romains' work is nearly sui generis: pronouncedly visual with its descriptions of many of the scenes, not to mention the often documentary material flashed on the screen, much of it is nevertheless also decidely unreal. Larger than life, and larger than cinema, Donogoo-Tonka is a novel that was avant-garde in its time -- and is, even in this day of very different media-technology, remarkably modern.
       It's an odd mix, too, of the simplistic and hackneyed and the bizarrely inventive: Romains' creative eye suggests a writer who could have had great success in advertising and film -- there's some wonderful invention here -- but who is also deeply suspicious and critical of these possibilities utilizing (then-)modern media -- likely the reason he did not wholeheartedly embrace the purely cinematic form but rather grounded this work on the page.
       An odd entertainment, certainly, but one that holds up reasonably well and is certainly still of some interest today.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 March 2015

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Donogoo-Tonka: Donogoo-Tonka - the film: Jules Romains: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jules Romains lived 1885 to 1972.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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