The structure of Osman Lins’s Avalovara is at once astonishingly complex and altogether transparent. The sequence of events is predetermined by a geometric design which appears before the first page of text, consisting of a Latin palindrome of five five-letter words with a spiral superimposed on it. To visualize this palindrome here, draw a large square subdivided into twenty-five smaller squares—five across and five down. In the first row of squares place the letters S-A-T-O-R; in the second, A-R-E-P-O; in the third, T-E-N-E-T; in the fourth, O-P-E-R-A; and in the fifth, R-O-T-A-S. The entire square is centered over a fourteen-ring spiral.
Each letter of the palindrome represents one plot line, and when the spiral touches a letter, a passage of that plot line appears. Since some letters are more frequent than others, plot segments vary in number of episodes from twenty-four (letter “O”) to two (letter “N,” which is in the center of the design). In addition, episodes increase in length each time that particular plot line reappears—most are ten lines long in the first episode, twenty lines long in the second, and so on. Exceptions are the themes corresponding to the letters “P” and “T,” whose first episodes are twelve and twenty lines long, respectively.
Such a contrived structure would make Avalovara’s plot seem to be an extremely easy one to recount, but in fact the reading experience is nearly...
(The entire section is 579 words.)