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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Thrown into Nature

Milen Ruskov

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Title: Thrown into Nature
Author: Milen Ruskov
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 294 pages
Original in: Bulgarian
Availability: Thrown into Nature - US
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  • Bulgarian title: Захвърлен в природата
  • Translated by Angela Rodel

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing if somewhat baffling picaresque

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Thrown into Nature happens to be a twenty-first century Bulgarian novel, but there's nothing about it that suggests that. Set in sixteenth-century Spain, it tries to be entirely a picaresque of that era -- complete with cameos by Lope de Vega and Cervantes. It's quite successful as such -- yet remains a rather puzzling exercise.
       Thrown into Nature is narrated by the Portuguese expatriate Guimarães da Silva (whereby: "The 'da Silva' part is made-up, by the way, since an aristocratic title causes people to pay more attention to what you say"), who is the "helpmate and student" of Dr. Nicolás Monardes. Monardes is an historical figure, and Ruskov focuses specifically on Monardes' enthusiastic embrace of tobacco as a heal-all wonder plant; most of the novel involves episodes of the application of the remedy -- mainly in the form of blowing smoke from the trusty and always at hand cigarella -- or other tobacco-related (mis)adventures. Da Silva -- who once earned his way performing tobacco smoke-blowing tricks in pubs, which was how he caught the eye of Monardes -- tries to follow in the footsteps of his master, but doesn't show quite as sure a hand -- or confident a con -- in the application of the tobacco remedies.
       Master and student travel about (mainly in Spain, but they also make it to Oxford, for example, for a big tobacco-debate organized by the English king) and have their little picaresque adventures (most are, indeed, quite minor). Da Silva editorializes some along the way: nature is one of the things he rails against -- "Yes, Nature is absolutely mad !" -- and the inability to conquer or understand it (as shown repeatedly in their medical experiments) is a constant problem. His rants are quite amusing, jumping from one complaint and conclusion to the next, but he does have trouble really thinking things through; unlike Monardes, da Silva can't really settle on any certainty and finds himself easily (and constantly) overwhelmed by Nature and everything else. This amusingly also leads to his failures in matters such as wooing women -- or positioning himself as Monardes' successor.
       Thrown into Nature is an amusing combination of historical novel and picaresque, steeped in tobacco. Ruskov presents the episodes well and much of this is amusing -- though the fickle (and in over his head) da Silva makes an occasionally frustrating narrator. All in all it's a fine -- if surprisingly pointless -- entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 November 2011

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Thrown into Nature: Reviews: Milen Ruskov: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bulgarian writer Milen Ruskov (Милен Русков) was born in 1966.

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© 2011 the complete review

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