Hocus Bogus: You May Want to Read This Twice

If you don’t speak French, you’re not going to read the real text, you’re going to have to settle for Anglicized idioms. (The author spoke Russian, Polish, Yiddish, German, French, English, and Bulgarian, and then his confession he said he tried to learn Swahili, but who knows, really.) But even if you read the real text, you wouldn’t figure out who was the real author, even if you read it upside-down. (You might get closer if you read it in a mental institution.) Hocus Bogus is a novel written by a man who never went by his birth name in real life and published his novels under a pseudonym. A couple pseudonyms later, and he was a schizophrenic voice who knew he was only pretending to be the original. There were three layers of deception, just like in Inception (that’s a reference to Bollywood). And then David Bellos translated it (the book, not the highly acclaimed Bollywood film) into English.

The narrator wrote the book as therapy under the advice of doctors. “They suggested painting at first, but that was a bummer.” He was a psychiatric patient who already knew he was mythical and had an Uncle Bogey. What I just wrote is completely fictional about the actual writer, but as for the narrator, it’s nothing but the truth. The entire work, you see, is a confession of a man who is nothing but the product of another man’s imagination that the first man is actually the latter man, when in fact it is somewhat the other way around. I’ll try to be clearer, but if you’re unnecessarily fond of clarity, you’ll require a manual Hocus Bogus.

The Part that (Sort of) Makes Sense: Romain Gary, one of France’s most popular novelists by the early 1970s, decided that riches and fame did not give him the literary legitimacy he desired. So he began writing novels as Émile Ajar, which were altogether too successful and people began to suspect that Gary and Ajar were the same person. Doing the only thing that made sense, he fled the country and assumed the name Paul Pawlovitch. Pawlovitch confessed to being Ajar, which convinced the literary community that Gary was an unrelated has-been. (And then Uncle Bogey tells Pawlovitch to “stop posing.”)

Still confused? Read an excerpt.

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Categories: Excerpts, Literature, Literature in Translation, Lost Without Translation, Margellos World Republic of Letters

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