Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès' Where Tigers are at Home

No one can walk beneath palm trees with impunity

and ideas are sure to change in a land where

elephants and tigers are at home

GOETHE: Elective Affinities


ALCÂNTARA: Whipping-post Square

‘Man's swelling his pointed dick! Squaaawk! Man's swelling his pointed dick!’ Heidegger's harsh, nasal, drunken-sounding voice echoed round the room.

Eléazard von Wogau looked up from his reading in sudden exasperation; half swivelling round in his chair, he grabbed the first book his hand lit on and threw it as hard as he could at the bird. At the other end of the room the parrot, with a vigorous, multicoloured ruffling of feathers, rose from its perch just enough to avoid the missile. Father Reilly's Studia Kircheriana landed with a crash on the table beyond it, overturning the half-full bottle of cachaça . It shattered on the spot, soaking the book that had fallen apart.

‘Oh, shit!’ Eléazard groaned.

For a brief moment he wondered whether to get up and try to save the book from further damage but then, catching the Sartrian look of the large macaw, that was pretending to be searching for something in its plumage, its head thrown back in an absurd attitude, its eye crazed, he decided to return to Caspar Schott's manuscript.

It was pretty remarkable, if you thought about it, that such a find was still possible: a completely unpublished manuscript that had come to light in the course of an inventory at the National Library in Palermo. The librarian had not thought the contents worthy of anything more then a brief article in the library's quarterly bulletin together with a note to the director of the local Goethe Institute. It had taken an exceptional concatenation of circumstances for a photocopy of this handwritten manuscript — the biography, written in French by an obscure German Jesuit, of another, equally forgotten Jesuit — to reach Brazil and Eléazard's desk. In a sudden access of zeal, the director of the Goethe Institute had taken it upon himself to communicate the discovery to Werner Küntzel, the Berliner who for several years had been attempting to demonstrate how the binary language of computers was rooted in the scholasticism of Ramon Llull and its later variants, notably that of Athanasius Kircher. Always inclined to get carried away, Küntzel had immediately proposed it to the Thomas Sessler publishing house. Balking at the cost of translation, the publisher agreed in principle to a subscription edition and, on Küntzel's advice, had commissioned Eléazard to establish the text and provide a commentary.

You old bugger, Werner, Eléazard thought with a smile, you've really no idea…