Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas
One of Publishers Weekly's Ten Best Books of 2015
One of Huffington Post's "18 Best Fiction Books of 2015"
An outrageous, fantastical, uncategorizable novel of obsession, adventure, and coconuts
In 1902, a radical vegetarian and nudist from Nuremberg named August Engelhardt set sail for what was then called the Bismarck Archipelago, in German New Guinea. His destination: the island Kabakon. His goal: to establish a colony based on worship of the sun and coconuts. His malnourished body was found on the beach on Kabakon in 1919; he was forty-three years old.
Christian Kracht's Imperium uses the outlandish details of Engelhardt's life to craft a fable about the allure of extremism and its fundamental foolishness. Engelhardt is at once a pitiable, misunderstood outsider and a rigid ideologue, and his misguided notions of purity and his spiral into madness presage the horrors of the mid-twentieth century.
Playing with the tropes of classic adventure tales such as Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, Kracht's novel, an international bestseller, is funny, bizarre, shocking, and poignant. His allusions are misleading, his historical time line is twisted, his narrator is unreliable--and the result is a novel that is a cabinet of mirrors, a maze pitted with trapdoors. Both a provocative satire and a serious meditation on the fragility and audacity of human activity, Imperium is impossible to categorize and utterly unlike anything you've read before.
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About the AuthorChristian Kracht is a Swiss novelist whose books have been translated into twenty-seven languages. His previous novels include Faserland, 1979, and I Will Be Here in Sunshine and in Shadow. Imperium was the recipient of the 2012 Wilhelm Raabe literature prize. Daniel Bowles teaches German studies at Boston College. His previous translations include novels by Thomas Meinecke and short texts by Alexander Kluge and Rainald Goetz.
"Imperium is astonishing and captivating, a tongue-in-cheek Conradian literary adventure for our time." --Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle
"Christian Kracht's Imperium is a Melvillean masterpiece of the South Seas . . . A strange, Mephistophelian novel, Kracht's book is also, by several units of some arcane nautical measurement, one of the slyest and most original works of the last several years. And - thanks to Daniel Bowles - it's one of the best translated." --Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire
"[One of the Ten] Best Books of 2015: An oddball masterpiece that begins with thumb-sucking nudist August Engelhardt fleeing Germany in 1902 to establish a South Seas utopia--one in which coconuts are the only food. Disaster predictably strikes the idealistic, naïve Engelhardt (a real historical figure) in this strange, engrossing tale, by turns slapstick, philosophical, and suspenseful." --Publishers Weekly
"If, while sprawled in a deck chair or on the beach this summer, you crave a book whose tone and emotional landscape mirror your own state of torpor and cosseted relaxation, such a book would not be Imperium. Although this very amusing and bracingly oddball novel by the Swiss writer Christian Kracht does feature several palm-covered islands-not to mention many gallons of coconut oil and copious amounts of undress-calling it a beach read is like calling Psycho maternal. Based on a true story, Imperium, which was a best seller in Europe, is the fablelike account of a scrawny, nervous vegetarian and nudist from Nuremberg named August Engelhardt . . . [who] has set off for the German protectorates in the South Pacific to found a colony devoted to growing and eating only 'the vegetal likeness of God.' By which is meant: coconuts . . . This barbed account of failed idealism shines a bright light on the ravages of obsession, all the while sprinkling the trail with memorably bizarre details." --Henry Alford, The New York Times Book Review
"[Imperium is a] delightful historical farce . . . In Mr. Kracht's deft retelling (and Daniel Bowles's wonderfully ornate translation) the story becomes a loony allegory for Germany's descent from grandiose idealism into stark raving lunacy." --Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Christian Kracht's novel Imperium . . . reads at times like the best Werner Herzog movie Herzog has yet to make." --Tobias Carroll, Biographile
"One hoots one's way through the book. Serious lessons, yes, but hilariously told. Translator Daniel Bowles has done an excellent job in conveying these qualities in his highly faithful and exacting translation: a thoroughly charming read." --Ulf Zimmerman, World Literature Today
"Imperium is a short novel, but its sweep is considerable. While Engelhardt's case history may be singular, Kracht places it in the context of an approaching global convulsion - World War I - that wipes out sanity, order, convention and pragmatism as thoroughly as it does Engelhardt's delusions . . . Kracht's writing . . . can be gorgeous. It's a credit to Daniel Bowles that, as you make your way through the novel's perverse extravagances, you always feel you're reading an original maverick stylist, never a translation." --Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
"To say a word about Christian Kracht's Imperium would be like engraving Goethe's Conversations of German Refugees into an orange seed. Or perhaps into a coconut? The cocovore on his South Sea isle would consume it at some point, and then the writing would be gone. But then shadowy mountains of fate would still form in the background: the German history behind the dropouts who made it by escaping it, when the evil procession of fate halted for a moment. An adventure novel. No doubt. That there even is still such a thing." --Elfriede Jelinek, author of The Piano Teacher and Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
"Comparable to the adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, and Daniel Defoe, albeit with a definite philosophical inclination, this amusing, fantastical tale features fabulous language, delightfully concocted descriptions, and an excellent translation by Bowles . . . Essential reading for those interested in the quirky characters of history." --Lisa Rohrbaugh, Library Journal
"Kracht's fascinating tale is an impressionistic portrait of a thumb-sucking, mad-for-coconuts German nudist. Set during the early 20th century and based on a real historical figure, the novel . . . bounces around in time, shifts in tone from philosophical to suspenseful to slapstick, features cameos from peculiar historical figures (such as the American inventor of Vegemite spread), and periodically widens its scope to consider the menacing rise of Nazism . . . [Kracht] inventively captures the period's zeitgeist through one incurable eccentric." --Publishers Weekly
"Imperium is, first and foremost, one thing--marvelous literature." --Erhard Schütz, Der Freitag