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the Complete Review
the complete review - travel

Atlas of an Anxious Man

Christoph Ransmayr

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To purchase Atlas of an Anxious Man

Title: Atlas of an Anxious Man
Author: Christoph Ransmayr
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 337 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Atlas of an Anxious Man - US
Atlas of an Anxious Man - UK
Atlas of an Anxious Man - Canada
Atlas d'un homme inquiet - France
Atlas eines ängstlichen Mannes - Deutschland
Atlante di un uomo irrequieto - Italia
  • German title: Atlas eines ängstlichen Mannes
  • Translated by Simon Pare

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Our Assessment:

A- : nice collection of travel/experience pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 11/6/2015 Pierre Deshusses
NZZ . 30/10/2012 Andreas Breitenstein
TLS . 20/1/2016 Mark Abley
Die Zeit . 31/10/2012 Gisela von Wysocki

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Au-delà des moments extraordinaires et des lieux exotiques -- tous ne le sont pas --, la magie de ces récits vient de la façon dont ils sont racontés et construits, pareils à des miniatures. Presque chaque récit a l’intensité d’un petit drame, par la réunion d’une chose vue et d’une chose évoquée, par la mise en relation d’éléments parfois très différents, parfois très lointains, par une référence à la mythologie, à l’histoire ou à une observation astronomique. La précision des liens ainsi choisis évite le flou souvent bancal de la métaphore et donne à ces histoires leur caractère précis et surprenant." - Pierre Deshusses, Le Monde

  • "Weder wuchert der Autor mit Exotismus, Exklusivität oder Episode, noch zelebriert er den Schmaus der Bilder, inszeniert er das eigene Abenteuertum oder ergeht er sich in Weltverbesserungsattitüde. Es ist ein Buch des Zögerns und Zweifelns, Suchens und Sorgens, Innehaltens und Bedenkens. Hier schreibt ein Wirklichkeits- und Möglichkeitsmensch, der sinnliche Wahrnehmung mit utopisch-melancholischer Reflexion verbindet." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "All the entries begin with the phrase "I saw", a deceptively simple structuring device. It transforms his stories into acts of witness. (...) Decades have elapsed, yet the narrator’s coolly watchful eye and tone remain unchanged. If memory plays tricks on him, Ransmayr is reluctant to admit it. (...) The nervousness, worry or anxiety that Ransmayr evokes in this book is cumulative -- an apprehension, I suspect, about the fate of the earth and its wild creatures as well as the plight of the humans in it. In sensibility he often resembles a less frenetic Werner Herzog, if such a thing can be imagined." - Mark Abley, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Das Buch will keine Spaltung zwischen der Sprache des Reporters und der des Dichters anerkennen. Naipaul, Chatwin, Hubert Fichte und andere haben darum gerungen, die alten Genreunterscheidungen aufzugeben, und eine eigene, beide Redeweisen verbindende Sprache gefunden. Ransmayr geht einen anderen Weg, er lässt die beiden Welten aufeinandertreffen, Sprachwelten krass zusammenstoßen." - Gisela von Wysocki, Die Zeit

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:

       Atlas of an Anxious Man isn't entirely a collection of travel pieces, as several of them are (in every respect) close-to-home texts set it Ransmayr's native Upper Austria. The vast majority of the seventy pieces, however, are truly far flung -- if not always to the ends of the earth, the places Ransmayr visits do tend to be distant, from each other, sometimes from practically everywhere, and only a handful of the pieces are set in continental Europe.
       Each piece begins with the same words: "I saw". Ransmayr relates what he was witness to, and while some of the pieces offer some (travel-)background -- a bit about the getting there, or the other time spent there, the focus tends to be on a single event or experience, right there. They are not necessarily just the Momentaufnahme of a snapshot, but they are also rarely part of any larger narrative -- as, for example, Ransmayr very rarely bothers to offer any explanation as to what motivated him to travel to a specific place. Similarly, the pieces are undated (and not in chronological order), and while there are some references to the times when they take place, they cover a span of several decades. With their back and forth, in time and place, Ransmayr doesn't offer the usual progress-arc of the travel story -- but then these are also less about (active) travel -- movement, progress -- than of being, in this or that place, in these situations.
       The locales tend to be isolated and barren: Ransmayr does visit a packed bullfighting arena and the Reichstag in Berlin, the German parliament, but he's not a big-city-visiting kind of traveler. He has little interest in the urban jungle, or crowds. and travels to some truly distant (from everywhere) places, farthest reaches across the world: Pitcairn Island ("it was over 5,000 kilometres from here to New Zealand, and almost 6,000 to the South American coast"), Easter Island, the Arctic. At times the extremes can seem almost comical: of course he writes about being on the Isla Róbinson Crusoe (one of the three islands of the Juan Fernández Archipelago, "between 600 and 700 kilometres west of the South American mainland").
       If not devoid of human life, the places he travels to are often sparsely populated, his interactions generally limited (though there are occasional travel companions). Typical is a meeting on the far reaches of the Great Wall of China -- yet again, essentially nowhere -- in October snow, where he encounters a lone person -- going the other way of course. He generally doesn't take the road well-traveled, either: going: "along a series of jagged rocky bays and then across a pathless, thorn-strewn slope" is more like it. A rare car trip finds him, of course, stopping: "to check my map and find out how far off route I was, and where the side road I had ended up on might take me". (In that case, (almost too-)entirely appropriately: the road he's on "didn't feature on the map".)
       Even when he stumbles on a place one might expect a crowd -- say, a garden that looks like it is set for a party, with fancy decor and tables laid for 70 or 80 people -- well: "the garden was deserted". Of course, he comes across numerous uninhabited dwellings, and, several times, animals that appear to have been abandoned.
       There are many encounters with other people, but often they are, in one way or another, out-casts, voluntary or otherwise, often in the border zone to madness. Even in visiting the Reichstag, the focus is on a man in line who is barefoot, despite the freezing weather.
       These isolated spots and rough, exotic locales are intriguing, but Ransmayr's calm, reflective pieces stand out for other reasons. There's often a slightly mournful spirit here, and some of the pieces are downright sad. Perhaps most impressively, the individual is never reduced to insignificance, yet Ransmayr still makes clear how small and frail s/he is against against the power of nature and history. A variety of natural and human disasters figure -- including the memory of the roof of his childhood home being blown off in a storm -- and many of those he encounters are, in one way or another, battered and bruised; his range here too is great, from the aftereffects of the 2004 tsunami to small-town domestic incidents back home.
       Ransmayr is often the outsider here, but rarely the tourist. He is after experience -- but it's calm, reflective (though also often physically challenging) experience he seeks out. He's not chasing thrills -- though there are some near-death experiences -- and there's rarely the triumph of achievement -- the peak that has been conquered. He is drawn to geographical extremes, the borderzones of what man can endure. A star-gazer, too, Ransmayr is an 'anxious man' fascinated by -- and concerned about -- what man has done, and can do, in nature.
       Atlas of an Anxious Man is far from your usual travel-account, but it's an impressive collection of scenes of the contemporary world -- the almost-asides of the often everyday, which are in fact often quite extraordinary. Recommended.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 July 2016

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Atlas of an Anxious Man: Reviews: Christoph Ransmayr: Other books by Christoph Ransmayr under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Travel-related books

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Christoph Ransmayr was born in 1954

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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