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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Temple of Iconoclasts

Juan Rodolfo Wilcock

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To purchase The Temple of Iconoclasts

Title: The Temple of Iconoclasts
Author: Juan Rodolfo Wilcock
Genre: Stories
Written: 1972 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 190 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Temple of Iconoclasts - US
The Temple of Iconoclasts - UK
The Temple of Iconoclasts - Canada
La synagogue des iconoclastes - France
Das Stereoskop der Einzelgänger - Deutschland
La sinagoga degli iconoclasti - Italia
La sinagoga de los iconoclastas - España
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Lawrence Venuti
  • Italian title: La sinagoga degli iconoclasti

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a fun and clever book to dip into

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Atlantic Monthly B 5/2000 Phoebe-Lou Adams
The LA Times A- 9/7/2000 Melvin Jules Bukiet
Publishers Weekly . 3/1/2000 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Winter/2000 Sally E. Parry

  From the Reviews:
  • "Wilcock describes imaginary sciences and philosophies with deadpan sobriety and wild terminology. These inventions are individually piquant, but become surfeiting if swallowed in one gulp." - Phoebe-Lou Adams, Atlantic Monthly

  • "(M)arvelously bizarre (.....) Beneath the giddy whimsy of The Temple of Iconoclasts lies a profound skepticism about modernity that bleeds through as many of Wilcock's subjects willfully eschew their own time. (...) Alas, Wilcock is not Borges, and his sketches -- best taken in small doses -- have a gossamer quality that tends to evaporate rather than echo in the reader's mind." - Melvin Jules Bukiet, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Compellingly whimsical, alienated, pseudo-scientific, bizarre: all these adjectives describe this fiction in the form of a short reference work (.....) Venuti renders Wilcock's Italian into lucid, captivating English, and offers a biographical introduction. Lovers of postmodern mind games should certainly start seeking out Wilcock's work -- assuming they can be sure it really exists." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Wilcock’s presentation of these passionate eccentrics, both real and unreal, deserves to have a wide audience." - Sally E. Parry, Review of Contemporary Fiction
  • "Wilcock's book restored happiness to me, as is only the case with those masterpieces of literature that are also masterpieces of black humor (.....) If you want to have a good time, if you want to cure what ails you, buy it, steal it, borrow it, but most importantly, read it. (...) The Temple of Iconoclasts is one of the best books of the twentieth century." - Roberto Bolaño, in Between Parentheses

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:

       The Temple of Iconoclasts is apparently the first work by Juan Rodolfo Wilcock to be translated into English -- and it certainly looks as though readers have been missing something. Argentinian, and an associate of Borges, Bioy Casares, and Ocampo, Wilcock became an exile and transformed himself into an author who wrote in Italian -- prose, poetry, drama, the whole lot. The Temple of Iconoclasts (La sinagoga degli iconoclasti in the original) seems a fair introduction to his work: it consists of what are largely very small pieces about very unusual people.
       Wilcock's style here is clear, precise and straightforward, almost always nonjudgmental. There's a great deal of humour in these stories of misguided men, but Wilcock's writes straight-facedly. There is little pity and little cynicism, and it works to good effect.
       The iconoclasts collected here are, in fact, a highly unusual bunch of generally very deluded men. A number of Wilcock's portraits are, in fact, based on actual people -- using information largely taken from Martin Gardner's 1952 collection, In the Name of Science. Tellingly, they can hardly be differentiated from the invented figures.
       The characters have absurd ideas or absurd talents, typically summed up in the opening of each piece. For example:

With the mere force of his will, the surgeon Charles Wentworth Littlefield succeeded in making table salt crystallize into the shapes of chickens and other small animals.
       The characters are utopians, visionaries, possessed of supernatural powers (like shaping salt at will), and many are, above all, scientists -- with theories and inventions that sometimes find adherents but ultimately are not taken too seriously. Many devote their lives to the singleminded pursuit of their looney goals.
       There is Aaron Rosenblum, a utopian who wants to return the world to the state it was in in 1580. There are the doings at the Gravity Research Foundation, trying to counter that insidious force. There is Henry Bucher: "At the age of fifty-nine, the Belgian Henry Bucher was only forty-two." There is Philip Baumberg, inventor of the labour-intensive but canine-friendly dog pump, a novel method of transporting water. There is Llorenz Riber, "summoned to Oxford to direct the dramatic adaptation of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations."
       Others believe that they are simultaneously many other people (possibly all people, in fact) or have theories about the earth (hollow inside, with huge holes at the poles) or about light and sound (sound being sinful light). One writes a dictionary-novel, with each dictionary entry linked by narrative passages to the next (examples of the curious result are given).
       Wilcock doesn't aim for broad humour here, and he avoids a sarcastic tone: his mock-serious approach carefully and effectively doses the mockery. There are occasional broad swipes (the road to a French "hospice for cretins" near the Swiss border is blown to smithereens during World War II because "the Germans believed it led to Switzerland because a sign read 'Shelter for the Deficient' ") but generally he takes just the right approach.
       The pieces are all well-crafted, and often both clever and humorous. The 35 portraits are perhaps a bit much -- it is a good thing, but too often a similar thing. Wilcock's imagination and presentation have a surface appeal -- they are neat little entertainments -- but they are also ultimately without great or resonant depth.

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The Temple of Iconoclasts: Reviews: Lawrence Venuti: Books by Lawrence Venuti under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author Juan Rodolfo Wilcock (1919-1978) was associated with the circle of writers that included Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo. He left Argentina in the 1950s, eventually settling in Italy, where he also began to write in Italian (and translate the works of others). He also wrote for various periodicals, and even played a role in Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel according to St. Matthew

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