Mathias Enard

Translated by Charlotte Mandell

Published 22 March 2017, French paperback with flaps, 480 pages
Shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize

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As night falls over Vienna, Franz Ritter, an insomniac musicologist, takes to his sickbed with an unspecified illness and spends a restless night drifting between dreams and memories, revisiting the important chapters of his life: his ongoing fascination with the Middle East and his numerous travels to Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, and Tehran, as well as the various writers, artists, musicians, academics, orientalists, and explorers who populate this vast dreamscape. At the centre of these memories is his elusive, unrequited love, Sarah, a fiercely intelligent French scholar caught in the intricate tension between Europe and the Middle East. An immersive, nocturnal, musical novel, full of generous erudition and bittersweet humour, Compass is a journey and a declaration of admiration, a quest for the otherness inside us all and a hand reaching out – like a bridge between West and East, yesterday and tomorrow. Winner of the 2015 Prix Goncourt, this is Mathias Enard’s most ambitious novel since Zone.

‘Crisply translated by Charlotte Mandell (as was Zone), Compass is Proustian in its set-up…. [T]here are passages of pure delight with rare insight into the human condition.’
— Tobias Grey, Financial Times

‘Few works of contemporary fiction will yield as much pleasure as Compass. Reading it amounts to wandering into a library arranged in the form of an exotic sweet shop, full of tempting fragments of stories guaranteed leaving you wanting more.’
Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

Compass is a challenging, brilliant, and – God help me – important a novel as is likely to be published this year.’
Justin Taylor, Los Angeles Times

‘One of the finest European novels in recent memory.’
Adrian Nathan West, Literary Review

‘The French novelist Mathias Enard is an unusual kind of regionalist. His great subject isn’t a small town or neighborhood but the vast Mediterranean basin, and practically everyone within it. Enard speaks Persian and Arabic, and he has taught at universities throughout Europe and the Middle East. He sees the Mediterranean as a distinct literary and historical region, a “zone,” as he called it in his novel of the same title. In nine books, three of which have been translated into English, he has charted a course through this zone, writing about sectarian violence in the Balkans; the varying tugs of jihadism, tradition, and globalization in Morocco; and a rogue’s gallery of thieves, killers, and eccentrics. Enard’s prose, which tends to pile descriptive clauses ever higher on top of one another (Zone is a single, five-hundred-page sentence), can be mesmerizing. But it’s the larger project of his writing that bears particular consideration: in his fiction, Enard is constructing an intricate, history-rich vision of a persistently misunderstood part of the world.’
Jacob Silverman, New Yorker

‘Enard is like the anti-Houellebecq, and he deserves far more attention.’ 
— Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal 

‘[T]he beauty of Compass is the sheer breadth and density of its vision, calling forth a multitude of different worlds, bound only by the capacious mind of its narrator, an aging Austrian musicologist named Franz Ritter.’ 
Jeffrey Zuckerman, New Republic

‘Enard has written a masterful novel that speaks to our current, confused moment in history by highlighting the manifold, vital contributions of Islamic and other Middle Eastern cultures to the European canon. More than that, it points toward, as one character puts it, “a new vision that includes the other in the self.”’
— Andrew Ervin, Washington Post

‘[A] love letter to the cosmopolitan Middle East … [a] strangely powerful work.’ 
Steven Poole, Guardian

‘In Charlotte Mandell’s elegant translation, Mathias Enard’s humane and erudite novel reminds the anglophone world of what it owes to Islam.’ 
— Ruth Scurr, Spectator

‘In a novel as full of erudition and historical knowledge as Compass, what we find at its core is a story that revolves around ‘that aporia, between self and the other, which is identity.’ Franz loves Sarah, with a desperation that is only felt more keenly with the hindsight of time and the presence of his unnamed and grave illness. Their story is deftly and recognisably told, moving with the slow pacing of fine storytelling and even managing to incorporate a very realistic use of the Internet.’
John Holten, Stinging Fly

‘In a world that has become afraid of intelligence, Compass – slowly, I imagine, and carefully translated by Charlotte Mandell – is a deeply intelligent novel, a book that I could vanish into forever.’
Anthony Brown, Time’s Flow Stemmed

‘A novelist like Enard feels particularly necessary right now, though to say this may actually be to undersell his work. He is not a polemicist but an artist, one whose novels will always have something to say to us.’ 
— Christopher Beha, Harper’s Magazine

‘Lyrical and intellectually rich without ever being ponderous, reminiscent at turns of Mann’s Death in Venice and Bowles’ Sheltering Sky.’
Kirkus (starred review)

Compass is a book about boundaries and non-boundaries, smudged lines between countries, languages, cultures and times. Following this multi-directional flow is a pleasure, thanks in part to prose that – translated by Charlotte Mandell – buoys academic detours with aphorisms and scenes plush with emotional detail…. It is a book with ideas, but one that underpins its eruditeness with a sad, lovesick soul. For a novel overspilling with dead writers, Enard has created a story full of life, full of possibility for the oriental and occidental to find the self in the other.’
— Thomas McMullan, minor literature[s]

‘Upon reading it for the second time … I had the unshakable feeling that this book represented, not just a high-water mark for books in translation for 2017, but a landmark for the times through which we are passing.’
— World Literature Today

‘[T]he poignant prose manages to convey the heightened sense of feelings and sets the scene with confidence, transporting the reader with the atmosphere of the various locations, whether it’s within the heart of Paris or the Middle East. Overall this is a clever and ambitious piece of work about the interactions between the Western and Islamic worlds.’
Buzz Magazine

Five Books interview Mathias Enard

Mathias Enard, born in 1972, studied Persian and Arabic and spent long periods in the Middle East. He won several awards for Zone, including the Prix du Livre Inter and the Prix Décembre, and won the Liste Goncourt/Le Choix de l’Orient, the Prix littéraire de la Porte Dorée and the Prix du Roman-News for Street of Thieves. He won the 2015 Prix Goncourt, the 2017 Leipziger Book Award for European Understanding, the Premio Gregor von Rezzori and was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for CompassThe Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild is his fifth novel to appear with Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Charlotte Mandell has translated fiction, poetry, and philosophy from the French, including works by Proust, Flaubert, Genet, Maupassant, Blanchot and many other distinguished authors. She has received many accolades and awards for her translations, including a Literature Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for Zone.