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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Lighted Burrow

Max Blecher

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To purchase The Lighted Burrow

Title: The Lighted Burrow
Author: Max Blecher
Genre: Novel
Written: (1938) (Eng. 2022)
Length: 202 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: The Lighted Burrow - US
La tanière éclairée - France
Beleuchtete Höhle - Deutschland
La guarida iluminada - España
directly from: Sublunary Editions
  • A Sanatorium Journal
  • Romanian title: Vizuina luminată
  • First published posthumously, in 1971
  • Translated by Christina Tudor-Sideri
  • With an Introduction by Doris Mironescu

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a compelling little work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 9/12/2008 Andreas Breitenstein
Wall St. Journal . 15/4/2022 Sam Sacks

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The complete review's Review:

       The Lighted Burrow is Max Blecher's final, only posthumously published, novel. Subtitled A Sanatorium Journal, the first-person narrative is again very autobiographical, Blecher presenting his experiences in various sanatoria during the 1930s. Suffering from spinal tuberculosis, he spent much of his time supine -- wheeled around on flat carts when he went for outings in the local village or traveled greater distances. Even as he does move some outside the sanatoria, the narrator lives in a bubble-world of sorts, and though he occasionally manages to move at least to its edges, where real world and sanatorium overlap, it is a strange place of routines and attempts to live a normal life in an atmosphere saturated with death (as many of the fellow patients are -- like Blecher -- terminal).
       The physical is always present, from the lack of mobility to the discomfort and the outright, horrible pain. (There is quite a bit in The Lighted Burrow that is not for the squeamish, with, for example, the narrator describing some of his deep wounds being kept open, and the necessity of pouring ether into them.) He and others undergo a variety of surgeries, too. Yet the narrator does not harp on the physical beyond where he can't get around it (admittedly, a significant amount of the time) -- and, despite it, manages in many ways to find a more conventional normalcy. Sociable, he seeks out people and tries to make contact -- though his and their infirmities, as well as the constant coming and going of patients makes any sort of long-term relationship impossible; all his acquaintances are necessarily fleeting; no one is referred to by their name. Still, there's a normalcy to much he does, or tries to do, here -- even as he is hampered by his condition.
       Unsurprisingly, his interior life takes on an expanded role. Understandably, some of that manifests itself in his awareness of his condition and fate. He's not darkly glum about, and it doesn't overwhelm his thinking, but it's there:

     I often think of my own death and I patiently and meticulously attempt, even with some thoroughness, to establish its precise shading, the exact manner in which it will "happen" and I can easily imagine several scenarios, different pains or falls into unconsciousness.
       Because of his physical condition, necessarily leaving him isolated and with little to occupy himself with beyond his own thoughts -- "This was the feeling that the disease gave me, that I was isolated on the threshold of a paste of events, movements, noises, and lights that were the world itself" -- the interior world takes on an outsize role. He notes, for example: "I think perhaps that there is no difference between the exterior world and the world of mental images", and his mind's-eye world -- replacing the world he can no longer physically experience, beyond in a much more limited way -- becomes part of his 'real' world. As he suggests:
(W)e imagine life in each moment and life as we imagine it then remains valid in that moment and only in that moment. It is the same thing, thus, to dream and to live.
       For all of that, The Lighted Burrow is very much grounded in the real and the narrator's experiences. He himself notes:
     When I read again what I have written, I discover with great astonishment the accuracy of events that took place in reality. It is extremely hard to separate it from that which never happened ! It is so difficult to scrape them of the clay of dreams, interpretations and distortions to which I had subjected them. In each moment, other reveries or simple visions in seductive light come to mind, which I have to remove in order to preserve some logic to my story, and in the end, I am the first to be surprised that what I wrote can be intelligible.
       While there are some episodes of pure invention -- notably, an elaborate fantasy about a "manufacturing radio" that could easily stand alone as a nice little science-fiction story -- the more strictly autobiographical descriptions of his life in and around the sanatoria dominate.
       It's the style and approach that allow The Lighted Burrow to transcend the traditional (terminal-)illness novel, making for a work that ranges -- especially in its interiority -- far wider. While lacking a neat story-arc -- though there are changes of venue as the novel progresses, the narrator moving on, as it were, to other locales --, the narrator's reflections on life, experience, and the very nature of reality do form a fairly cohesive whole. It's a compelling little work, and a fine complement to Blecher's two earlier novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 March 2022

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The Lighted Burrow: Reviews: Other books by Max Blecher under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author M. Blecher (who signed his name Max or Marcel) lived 1909 to 1938.

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© 2022 the complete review

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