The Joy of Being Awake
Hector Abad, translated by Nathan Budoff
ISBN 1-57129-020-6 1996 paper $15.95
Saint or sinner? The reader must decide as he or she follows the ruminations of Hector Abad’s aging protagonist, Gaspar. Gaspar’s memoirs meld the ostensible seriousness of St. Augustine’s Confessions with the bawdy atmosphere of Fanny Hill. This is the counter-story to Voltaire’s Candide, told with a matter-of-factness that Abad accomplishes with an earthy yet cerebral flair.
“The Joy of Being Awake by the Colombian writer Hector Abad deliberately models itself on two key 18th-century works: Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Voltaire’s Candide. Like Sterne’s eccentric novel, The Joy of Being Awake is a bittersweet account of the life and opinions of a man at odds with himself, narrated in nonchronological fashion with plenty of entertaining digressions and the occasional formal game. (One chapter, subtitled in fine 18th-century style ‘Wherein a Eulogy of Silence is Proclaimed & What is Not Disclosed in Passing Over Several Years of Life is Declared,’ consists of two blank pages.)
The narrator, a rich erudite man, shares Voltaire’s rationalism and skepticism, and his eventual wife, the delectably named Cunegunda Bonaventura, even shares the name of Candide’s wife, Cunegonde. Writing at the end of his life, the narrator often gives two versions of a memory: first what he wishes had happened and then what really happened. It’s appropriate that he’s the author of a collection of essays ‘on the double scatology of Quevedo the metaphysical and the defectory.’ …Torn between the metaphysical and the defectory as it were, the narrator retreats into an ascetic life, candidly admitting he is ‘a man who doesn’t feel.’ …Abad’s novel has a surface geniality that barely conceals undercurrents of discontent and despair.”
-Steven Moore, Fiction in Translation Review