A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

by Julian Barnes
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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352

Julian Barnes' 1989 novel, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters is not a single linear narrative but a collection of short stories. The "1/2" chapter (titled "Parenthesis") is a pontification on love. Although the story is told in the first person, Julian Barnes cautions the reader against understanding the perspective to be that of the author himself. He presents a cynical and cautious view of love, claiming that "love won't change the history of the world," but claims that "love will stand up to history" (Barnes 1989, 236).

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Revisionist history, travel and its attendant dangers, and bigotry are the abiding themes of Julian Barnes' collection.

In addition to the narrative interlude on love, the ten stories include the following: an account of Noah's Ark from the point of view of the worms who were not permitted by Noah to board and so had to hide ("The Stowaway"); a hijacking of a cruise liner resulting in the death of many of the passengers ("The Visitors"); a trial of the woodworms destroying a church, ultimately resulting in their excommunication ("The Wars of Religion"); the story of a survivor of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, living in fear of an imminent nuclear war ("The Survivor"); a close discussion of the subject matter of the Romantic painting The Raft of Medusa by French painter Théodore Géricault ("Shipwreck"); a woman going to a monastery on behalf of her deceased father ("The Mountain"); the collective depiction of survivors of the Titanic, the Old Testament story of Jonah and the whale, and Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, who were denied entry to US ports owing to immigration laws ("Three Simple Stories"); an anecdote of an actor who is filming a movie in a remote jungle and witnesses the drowning of his friend in a rafting accident ("Upstream!"); the story of an astronaut who goes to retrieve missing pieces of Noah's Ark ("Project Ararat"); and finally, a hypothesis of what heaven might be like - including the perfect breakfast sausage and meeting Judy Garland ("The Dream").

Julian Barnes' collection of stories discourage the reader from taking history at face value.

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