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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Kzradock the Onion Man
and the Spring-Fresh

Louis Levy

general information | quotes | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Kzradock

Title: Kzradock
Author: Louis Levy
Genre: Novel
Written: 1910 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: Kzradock - US
Kzradock - UK
Kzradock - Canada
Der Menschenzwiebel Kzradock - Deutschland
directly from: Wakefield Press
  • From the Notes of Dr. Renard de Montpensier
  • Danish title: Menneskeløget Kzradock, den vaarfriske Methusalem: af Dr. Renard de Montpensiers Optegnelser
  • Translated and with an afterword by W.C.Bamberger
  • Translated from the German translation, sigh -- "and then kindly checked against Levy's Danish original by Annette David"

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Our Assessment:

B : wild ride of a very different kind of soul-searching mystery

See our review for fuller assessment.

  • "This immensely great book speaks with a powerful language… (...) This book unfurls the metaphysics of doubt. The terrifying law behind soul's germination -- if one trusts the soul -- is developed explicitly in this detective story. (...) The book's knowledge is legitimate and its artistic unity morally shattering, for its unity arises out of the demonic. Indeed, doubt alone can make the madness in art bearable." - Gershom Scholem, in Lamentations of Youth: The Diaries of Gershom Scholem, 1913-1919 (entry of 15 April 1918)

  • "Eine kleine Novelle aber, die vor vielen Jahren bei Reiß erschien, wird ihn bis in die Wurzeln seines Stammbaums erschüttern. Sie heißt: Die Menschenzwiebel Kzradock oder der frühlingsfrische Methusalem." - Walter Benjamin, Was schenke ich einem Snob ? (1929), in Gesammelte Schriften III

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:

       Presented as From the Notes of Dr. Renard de Montpensier -- the director of an insane asylum -- Kzradock begins promising mayhem and confusion:

     What will be related here is a dreadful and bloody mystery, one that is still not entirely understood by the author.
       Kzradock is a patient of the doctor's, though the opening scene certainly isn't one of any traditional psychiatric treatment session: it's of a séance. Whatever is buried in Kzradock's soul -- and the doctor warns that's a lot: "When I began treating him he was on the verge of collapsing under the weight of the burden that he carried in his unconscious" -- apparently can only be reached by both mystical and medical treatment.
       There is murder, of two women, Alice and Yvonne, vividly described ("the carpet is so red that you can hardly tell what is blood and what is carpet"), and with murder and police investigation, Kzradock employs traditional (early-days) detective story devices, twists and all. Yet despite involving the Paris police -- a Monsieur Carbonel -- and an American detective, Mister Wells, the real mystery is on the personal level: Kzradock is a literally soul-searching novel, and it's simplest summing-up would say it is the story of an identity crisis. There's a reason the doctor refers to Kzradock as 'the Onion Man', and there are a lot of layers to peel back here.
       Among the major plot points is one having the inmates taking over the asylum. Apparently setting it on fire, they are able to fool the fire chief into believing that the late-arriving-to-the-scene doctor and Monsieur Carbonel are impostors, escaped patients -- with Monsieur Carbonel then taking advantage when the situation is cleared up to claim that the foreign irritant, Mister Wells, is, in fact, one of the madmen. As it turns out, there apparently is no fire:
     "No fire," replied the fire chief. "But there is a revolution."
       Everywhere the doctor turns, Kzradock is his antagonist. Eventually, he sees:
     Now I understood just what the struggle with Kzradock meant ! It was the struggle between madness and reason. A struggle between his insanity, which wanted to crowd into my circles, and my reason, which felt a curious desire to enter his world.
       And it doesn't come as too much of a surprise that that is very much an internal struggle.
       Using elements of the detctive novel, as well as delving into both mysticism and the subconscious (the psychic and psychoanalytic here both very much of their time), -- with a good dose of the seemingly hallucinatory unreal -- Kzradock is a nicely twisted take on soul-searching, plunging ever-deeper into questions such as:
Is reason only disciplined insanity, an insane hallucination that has taken on form, and under whose influence we all live ? Is reason a dream created by chance, made useable by necessity ?
       The doctor goes through quite some ordeals -- all the way to the cliffs of Brighton. In conclusion, he can't be sure -- "Who knows whether I have truly escaped ..." -- but he's found some of the answers for himself. They include the lesson learned: "You have to doubt your own soul". This too is very much of its time, a worldview informed by the theories (or fads ...) of the day -- but it's nicely mixed up and in by Levy, the doctor's travails and adventures using all of this well in reaching his conclusions. And if it's all a bit overheated -- the action as well as the ideas -- it's certainly quite good fun, especially in its bizarreness.
       Kzradock is the kind of novel that finds the narrator flailing, finding that:
At the edge of the abyss between madness and reason language comes to a stop, and words can no longer explain ....
       But the atmosphere and action Levy conjures up are enough to give the reader some sense of this abyss he explores.
       Likely considerably more haunting in its own time, Kzradock still stands up reasonably well, and both the mind-games Levy plays in it and the contrasting pieces -- ranging from imitation-detective-novel bits to the near-surrealistic -- make for an appealing, bizarre little read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 February 2017

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Kzradock: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Louis Levy lived 1875 to 1940.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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