May 16, 2016

The Lamentations of Zeno - Ilija Trojanow

Verso Books, May 3, 2016.

Four Stars

Zeno Hintermeier’s lamentations are endless, as he takes us on a journey in this novel. Not only is his marriage failing and his career faltering, he is also undergoing an existential crisis due to the melting of the polar ice caps. Zeno is a geologist, and he has been watching the progress of global warming throughout his lifetime. Now, as a scientist working as a tour guide on a cruise ship, he has a front row seat to the potential end of the world.

Overqualified for his job as tour guide, Zeno feels superior to his coworkers and especially to the guests on the ship. As they traverse the Antarctic, he finds new and powerful ways to convey the rapid loss of the glaciers, desperate to make the tourists take this tragedy seriously. The tourists, meanwhile, are more interested in taking selfies with penguins and gorging themselves on cruise ship buffet dinners. In his desperation, Zeno creates an extreme wake-up call for the effects of global warming – and it almost ends in tragedy.

In his sixties, Zeno is in the process of looking back at his life, and lamenting all he has lost. With the end of his marriage, he has taken a lover on the cruise ship, but he doesn’t see her as an equal in passion and intelligence. His career has become irrelevant, and his behavior is increasingly erratic. The melting of the ice caps pushes him over the edge, bringing back memories of a colder, idealized past. The novel becomes more complex as Zeno’s inner world begins to unravel.

Zeno’s personal issues are a small-scale view of what can be lost in a lifetime. The larger issue of global warming then becomes a haunting view of our entire existence as a species – and the potential for an end to the world we know. Zeno recognizes the fragility of the glaciers, and how we don’t appreciate them until they are almost gone – much like other aspects of his personal life. This novel brings humanity to the struggle to preserve the natural world. It is a small book, but it is packed with ideas that must be understood slowly and deeply.

I received this novel from Verso Books in exchange for an honest review.

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