FOR ISABEL: A MANDALA, BY ANTONIO TABUCCHI, TRANSLATED BY ELIZABETH HARRIS
Part mystery, part romance, and part meditation on cosmic matters, For Isabel: A Mandala follows Tadeus Slowacki as he searches for an elusive childhood friend, whose involvement in subversive politics placed her in danger. This is no ordinary quest, however, and Tadeus is not a typical protagonist. “Think of me as a pulsar,” he says. “I come from a place where splendor reigns.” These hints are our sole guiding lights regarding his afterlife. Though dead, Tadeus returns to Earth to discover Isabel’s fate, encountering those who helped her along the way, including a Catholic priest, a musician, and a poet who communes with spirits.
For Isabel resists grandiosity and thrives in quiet moments of human connection. Elegant but unpretentious, Tadeus’ reflections raise a scaffold of nostalgia and loss centered on his deeply held remembrances of Isabel. He recalls their escapades in France, catching frogs and bringing them home to eat: “People thought we were nuts, which we enjoyed, because at that age you enjoy such things.” Elizabeth Harris’ translation from the Italian preserves the meandering, dreamlike atmosphere of the story, the concentric circles of meaning around reconciliation and the unbounded nature of time.