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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Learning to Pray in
the Age of Technique

Gonçalo M. Tavares

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To purchase Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique

Title: Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique
Author: Gonçalo M. Tavares
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 342 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique - US
Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique - UK
Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique - Canada
Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique - India
Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique - France
Imparare a pregare nell'era della tecnica - Italia
Aprender a rezar en la era de la técnica - España
  • Portuguese title: Aprender a rezar na Era da Técnica
  • Translated by Daniel Hahn

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguingly presented character portrait, without quite the payoff at the end

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 15/8/2011 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite the careful layering of earthy vignettes and the unusual interpretation of human cruelty, the novel remains too discursive to have real emotional impact, and the conclusion yields few surprises." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique is a character portrait, a three-part work describing the rise and demise of Lenz Buchmann. A doctor, his personality and worldview are shaped (and warped) by his father -- a man who taught his sons that fear is unacceptable ("'In this house, fear is illegal,' was one of Frederich Buchmann's most striking sayings"). Lenz is a rather unpleasant sort, who takes pleasure in humiliating others; among the rituals he indulges in is welcoming a tramp into his house and promising him food and money, but only at a price, a strange game that he also forces his wife to play -- until he's had enough of it and brings it to a rather shocking end.
       Lenz operates at a complete emotional remove; he seems to have no real ties, beyond some feelings of filial duties and obligations towards his admired father (and then his admired father's memory), a man whose (bizarre) standards he tries to live up to. Lenz has a brother, but he has little respect for the weakling who is so different from him; "I'm also going to find it easy to forget you", Lenz notes after Albert's death. Lenz's wife also figures as little more than an object -- ultimately also readily disposed of. Eventually Lenz does become closer to his secretary, Julia, -- who also represents a connection to his father, who played a decisive role in her life many years earlier -- but here too there is little emotional connection; when he becomes intimately involved with her and feels a bond (of sorts) he sees himself as: "making her, in a sense doing her". Even as they become "a single substance", one is always completely dominant; initially it is Lenz, while eventually he becomes dependant on her.
       Though a doctor, Lenz feels little humanity towards those he helps:

It was quite clear to Lenz, each time he saved a person's life by way of some surgical procedure, that he was saving only one man -- a statistical nonentity. Statistics are a precise way of demonstrating indifference.
       It's no wonder then that Lenz gives up his healing work, abandoning medicine and turning to politics instead. Incredibly certain of himself, he sees himself as a leader. It's almost all force of personality -- politics is entirely secondary, though in his screwed up world-vision there is an ideology of sorts he wants to foist on his countrymen. He is, for the longest time unbending:
it was always easier for Lenz to force the world to occupy precisely the position his father had appointed it than ever admit that his father might have been wrong.
       Lenz rises quickly in the party hierarchy, a man to whom the future belongs -- but then he's cut down by illness, weakened and soon completely debilitated, a "cadaverous, ravaged man". Willpower, fortitude, certainty are harder to maintain; his body crumbles, inevitably taking his worldview with it.
       The writing in Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique is quite striking, precise and clinical as befits a work centered almost entirely on a man like Lenz. But so dominant is the figure that the book rises and falls with him; sympathy won't do it -- he's not in the least a pleasant or likeable figure (or villain) -- and the presentation of the character ultimately isn't compelling enough on its own either. So Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique does wind up feeling like a somewhat sterile writing exercise (with none-too-subtle literary nods, from the cameo appearance of a Joseph Walser (cf. Tavares' Joseph Walser's Machine) to the character's family name ('book-man') accentuating that) -- albeit one that often impresses.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 September 2011

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Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique: Reviews: Gonçalo M. Tavares: Other books by Gonçalo M. Tavares under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Portuguese author Gonçalo M. Tavares was born in 1970.

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