Winner of Mexico’s Premio Novela Mexico, Spain’s Romulo Gallegos Prize for best Spanish-language novel, and France’s Priz de Meilleur. James Polk reviews book Palinuro of Mexico by Fernando del Paso; drawing (M). A Case of Literary Infection: Palinuro de Mexico and Ulysses. ROBIN FIDDIAN. Palinuro de Mexico is Fernando del Paso’s second novel. Born in. Mexico City in .

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This addition to the cohort of accomplished and well-received Latin Plainuro prose artists with North American publishers has been a long time in coming. For Mexican novelist Fernando del Paso, there has been a lag of almost 20 years since the first Spanish-language edition of this huge and mystifying novel.

It also reads the way “Ulysses” might if that great experimental novel–the bible for all modern prose fiction writers, as far as I’m concerned–had lacked a plot. Just as Joyce’s title signals that his model for the novel is a grand and all-encompassing quest story, the title of Del Paso’s book also hints at a mythological precedent. Palinurus was the helmsman in Virgil’s “Aeneid.

Unfortunately for the helmsman, the gods demand a sacrifice if the ship is to safely reach the farther shore; the god of sleep overwhelms Palinurus, and he slips from the deck into the sea. Unfortunately for the unsuspecting reader, he or she may suffer something resembling Palinurus’ fate–the sleep part, anyway–when picking paliuro this book unprepared.


In writing a novel about the education–medical, literary and experiential–of the eponymous Mexico City wag he dubs Palinuro, Del Paso has deployed vast amounts of often-fascinating material about disease and health, literature, Mexican history and contemporary Western culture in the Americas and abroad.

But he doesn’t use the telling details, as a realistic novelist would, to enhance dramatic scenes. He expatiates, expounds, declaims and makes metaphor after metaphor out of the tons of facts that make up his enormous erudition, and this becomes a sort of linguistic drama in itself. So Palinuro, as a child, can’t just run around in the park, get dirty and have his mother give him a bath. He gets a literary laundering of his body, which, “when all is said and done.

Suffice it to say that the water managed to christen the whole of Palinuro’s anatomy and that, in some cases, it rechristened common places which have always, for generations of wise men and readers, had the same name and thus causing a series of reforms in the realms of geography and the mythological melting pots.

In its passage through the corporeal landscapes, beyond the silvan valleys and olfactory deserts, the water reached the shore mexuco the Islets of Langerhans, which everybody knows are in the pancreas, and baptized those crystal beaches with the name of Islets of Palinuro. For most novelists, the dramatizing of experience is all.


For Del Paso, the rhetoricizing of experience is everything. So if you pick up this book intending to enjoy the outrageous and outlandish palaver of it all–the lists of diseases and the loquacious excursions into the household debates from Palinuro’s childhood; the chapter-long apotheosis of his cousin and lover Estefania; and the shocking anecdotes from medical school–then you will have a great good time.


Most women who read the romantic paean to Estefania that makes up all of Chapter 4 will probably ek for such treatment for themselves. The beautiful, elegiac chapter on the room inhabited by Palinuro the medical student and Estefania the nurse is truly moving, with the force of its unfolding metaphors about their little love nest.


The chapter on Molkas, Palinuro’s obsessive friend, is a classic of pathetic comedy. Most men who read the chapter on what Palinuro and his med-school pals do with some body parts acquired from the morgue will likely laugh–and wince–a lot. The book is filled to the brim with such comic extravagances, but it’s so dense with language and so thin in story that many readers won’t stay with it palijuro enough to find mexkco of its enjoyable material.