Although he has still to make his name in the United States, Juan Goytisolo is considered by some to be a leading European novelist. His status is all the more significant because of the complex transitional character of contemporary European fiction, a state of affairs which has been made available to American readers through the efforts of Dalkey Archives and other select publishers. Readers new to Goytisolo’s work will not find QUARANTINE particularly easy going. At the same time, however, for all its brevity and density, this novel highlights some of the characteristic elements in this author’s work.
The novel draws on various meanings of “quarantine.” The most important of these is the Islamic tradition which holds that there is a forty-day transitional period in which the soul hovers between the body’s death and its own eternal life. As well as providing the text with numerous references to elaborations of that belief, this meaning of “quarantine” is a pretext for presenting various forms of interaction between the Christian and Islamic worlds. Among the more arresting of these are thoughts on Dante’s THE DIVINE COMEDY and on the Gulf War. The narrative momentum of QUARANTINE is provided by another tradition, that of the quest romance. At one level, this is represented by the narrator’s attempts to pursue a recently departed friend. At another, it signifies an author’s search for his subject.
The intermingling of different narrative approaches, modes of representation, and forms of metaphysical thought results in a work which a literal-minded reader will probably find obscure. Other readers, however, will find that it is the principle of intermingling, together with the indeterminate condition to which the title alludes, that makes QUARANTINE an intriguing reflection of—and on—contemporary cultural turmoil and the distinctive fin de siecle overtones which accompany it.