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the Complete Review
the complete review - travel


Autonauts of the Cosmoroute

Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop

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To purchase Autonauts of the Cosmoroute

Title: Autonauts of the Cosmoroute
Author: Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1983 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 354 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Autonauts of the Cosmoroute - US
Los autonautas de la cosmopista - US
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute - UK
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute - Canada
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute - India
Les autonautes de la cosmoroute - France
Die Autonauten auf der Kosmobahn - Deutschland
Gli autonauti della cosmostrada - Italia
Los autonautas de la cosmopista - España
  • A Timeless Voyage from Paris to Marseille
  • Spanish title: Los autonautas de la cosmopista
  • Translated by Anne McLean
  • With illustrations by Stéphane Hébert
  • With photographs by the authors

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Our Assessment:

A- : a different kind of road trip, nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 2-3/2008 Jason Weiss
FAZ . 2/5/1996 Dagmar Ploetz
The LA Times . 25/11/2007 Richard Eder
The Nation . 7/1/2008 Colin Fleming
The NY Sun . 19/12/2007 Benjamin Lytal
The NY Times Book Rev. . 20/1/2008 David Kirby
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2008 Danielle Dutton

  Review Consensus:

  Most found it enjoyable and recommend it.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Autonauts of the Cosmoroute: A Timeless Voyage from Paris to Marseille -- the last book published in Cortázar’s lifetime, it appeared in Spanish in 1983 and is now available in a fluid and felicitous English translation by Anne McLean -- figures among his most playful works, its tone recalling, in a lighter vein, travelers’ tales from the age of discovery. Simultaneously, it offers another take on the collage aesthetic that underlies his novels and kaleidoscopic multigenre books, such as Around the Day in Eighty Worlds (1967)." - Jason Weiss, Bookforum

  • "Das Spiel ist auch eines mit literarischen Formen. Neben dem "Bordbuch", das die jeweilige Position und den Tagesablauf in Stichpunkten dokumentiert, stehen "an den bleichen Leser" gerichtete Passagen im Stil alter Reiseberichte, romantische Landschafts- und Stimmungsbeschreibungen (der Taugenichts grüßt aus der Ferne), essayistische Einschübe, Tagebuchsequenzen und sogar ein fiktiver kleiner Briefroman, der eine Außensicht auf dieses Paar gewährt." - Dagmar Ploetz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Its text is a contemporary equivalent of the Anabaptists' revolt against established religious good sense; here it is the religion of progress that is upended. (...) Bit by bit, though, the comic veil thins into a scrim, through which graver matters appear." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "It's a sustaining energy, really, and it's rather the point of Autonauts of the Cosmoroute. Some will view the book as Cortázar-lite, the mailed-in travelogue that is far less bold with form than the efforts on which his reputation rests." - Colin Fleming, The Nation

  • "Call it Quixotic. Yet Cortázar's gag has the willfulness of art. But what makes Autonauts an involving work -- and what makes it a genuine love story -- are not its theories but its concrete record of privations in near-wilderness, without telephones and good restaurants but also without any established routines." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "The problem is that Cortázar and Dunlop seem to have decided to write a book about the journey, whether or not the journey had a book in it. As it turns out, the narrative they hope for never emerges (.....) Those who bemoan the self-absorption of the postliterate generation will be happy to know that before the self-indulgent, amateurish blog there was the self-indulgent, amateurish log." - David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Cortazar and Dunlop are on the run from a persistent "gloom" at home in Paris; they’re looking to escape their "demons." But rather than escape to some exotic island, they escape to an enchanted quotidian, into another dimension within our own, sharing the same ground but of another temporal field: "a land of great silence, a land of time that lengthens and nevertheless moves on unnoticed." And it works." - Danielle Dutton, Review of Contemporary Fiction

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:

       In May 1982 Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop set out on a different kind of road trip, one they had been planning for several years: to travel from Paris to Marseilles via the autoroute (turnpike/freeway), never getting off, and stopping at each rest area along the way, at a rate of two a day. With sixty-five rest areas along the way, the trip would take them just over a month -- and isolated on the autoroute they'd be as far from their daily routines as on a South Seas voyage, a trek in the desert, or a trip down the Amazon.
       Part of the fun they had with it was in taking the trip so very seriously, first in the planning and then the execution. They saw it as a real expedition, and from the provisions to the logistics planned everything out very carefully. They wanted to take the trip more or less in secrecy -- for one, because it was illegal to stay on the freeway for such a long time without getting off --, and also because any publicity or outside attention (as this sort of undertaking might might easily receive) would spoil it. Still, they had to get some friends involved, who would come meet them and restock their supplies -- since, while much can be bought at the rest-stop shops along the way (even metre-high porcelain Buddhas, as they find ...), they were concerned about some of the basics. And, among the 'rules' for their game they decided they would:

     3. Carry out scientific topographical studies of each rest area, taking note of all pertinent observations.
     4. Taking our inspiration from the travel tales of the great explorers of the past, write the book of the expedition (methods to be determined).
       Their interpretation of 'scientific' is pretty loose, but the resulting book certainly is a worthy addition to travel-literature.
       Their 'expedition' is, in fact, almost the antithesis of traditional travel-exploration. Their route is as laid out for them as one can be: it's paved and marked and impossible to get lost. The distances involved are trivial: a typical travel log entry will record the time they leave one rest area, and then their arrival at the next some ten minutes later. And surely there is no travel destination that is more banal than a freeway rest area -- yet like oases in the desert, each is a bit different, each brings a bit of adventure with it.
       After a great deal of planning Cortazar and Dunlop finally hit the road in 1982, setting off in Fafner, their trusty VW minibus (with roof that tilts open). They dutifully record the basics -- times, temperatures, meals -- in a travel log, take lots of pictures (later augmented by Dunlop-son Stéphane Hébert's cartographic drawings), and also write about their expedition. In many of the photographs Cortázar's typewriter is out -- leading also to the caption:
Lobo: How many photos are you going to take of me writing ?
Osita: Lots. We have to convince the reader of the seriousness of our scientific labour.
       Their scientific observations -- indeed, their general findings -- are, not surprisingly, hardly earth-shattering. The adventures tend to be small ones: 'encounters' with wildlife (usually insects -- especially ants), the occasional storm (though heat was a constant problem), concerns about being followed and spied upon, especially by the authorities, the occasional encounter with someone else stopping at the same rest area.
       Part of the appeal of this particular journey is, of course, how very contrary it is. The purpose of the autoroute is to go from one place to another as quickly as possible, and with as few interruptions as possible, by-passing the towns and cities on the way. While the rest areas are places to stop along the way, they're hardly meant to be places to linger. There are restaurants and motels at some of the rest stops, and there are others who park there for a night to sleep, but no one does so as consequently as Cortázar and Dunlop. And no one does it day in and day out for such a long period of time.
       They write that:
Rest areas are nothing but emptiness with décor. You need to know how to fill them.
       That they do. They have their routines -- including making themselves comfortable in their hideous lawn chairs, as well as setting up their writing areas -- but they also fill it with their drive to accomplish something, to make this whole exercise meaningful. And the resulting travel-book suggests they managed just fine.
       There are some actual insights here, too -- though one thing that's hardly discussed is the seeming emptiness of the roads. There are many pictures of the trip, but almost every stretch of the road that is photographed, every rest area, is almost entirely devoid of life and vehicles. An occasional traffic jam gets mentioned, or some other driver's behaviour on the road, but they seem to have managed to not just not go with the flow but to have avoided it almost entirely.
       The rest areas are the focus, and there are some nice observations about them in all their variations -- from bleak asphalt strip to mini-city:
The big rest areas with service stations, a shop and almost always a restaurant see a small, ephemeral, changing city grow up each night that will only exist once, to be replaced by a similar but different one the next day. Suddenly the city is complete, and it's the most international city in the world, with Bulgarian, French, German, Spanish, Greek, Belgian houses, long houses with inscriptions or huge canvasses beneath which mystery shelters; houses with many rooms, with kitchens, bathrooms, television, lights; houses where a couple or a man or a woman live alone, sometimes dogs, sometimes children, and always camping stoves, bottles of wine and beer, aromas of soup or frites.
       With the odd details -- Cortazar reading ... Ann Rice ? --, the concern about the Falklands/Malvinas war taking place at the same time, as well as their routines and their playful affection for one another, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute turns out to be a surprisingly compelling travel-book. They hardly let on along the way, but both were apparently in relatively poor health, too, and in a postscript from December Cortázar mentions that Dunlop passed away only a few months after the end of the trip, adding to the poignancy of this bizarre undertaking.
       Charming and a lot of fun, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is well worthwhile.

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Autonauts of the Cosmoroute: Reviews: Julio Cortázar: Other books by Julio Cortázar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       Argentinian author Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was born in Brussels, and lived in France from 1951 onwards. He is the author of numerous acclaimed experimental works.

       Carol Dunlop was born in Boston in 1946 and died in 1982.

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© 2008-2014 the complete review

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