The winner of France's Prix Goncourt award. A novel that looks at the intersections between Europe and the Islamic World, told over the course of a single fitful night, from the perspective of an Austrian musicologist worrying about his health.
...the beauty of Compass is the sheer breadth and density of its vision, calling forth a multitude of different worlds, bound only by the capacious mind of its narrator ... Énard’s refusal to let one part of the world or one culture assert absolute authority over the other shows his readers how they themselves might shoulder many contradicting realities. No monolithic religion or reality holds sway here ... In reorienting us in the same way, Compass breathes life into the ashes of history, forcing its readers to see anew the world around them.
With divisive rhetoric spouting these days from every direction, Mathias Énard’s magnificent Compass has appeared on our shores at precisely the right time ... There’s an apt symphonic quality to Charlotte Mandell’s translation. Themes appear and return, often in variations. Motifs — illness, dread, shame — lots and lots of shame — return us to Ritter’s bed and his long, dark night of the soul. The genius of Énard’s composition lies in the seemingly random organization of Ritter’s thoughts ... Énard has written a masterful novel that speaks to our current, confused moment in history by highlighting the manifold, vital contributions of Islamic and other Middle Eastern cultures to the European canon.
Compass, a brilliant, elusive, outré love letter to Middle Eastern art and culture, is also a spirited challenge to Said’s masterpiece, which can be felt thrumming beneath the text as an animating anxiety ... The resulting intellectual torrent, vividly translated by Charlotte Mandell, purportedly comprises Ritter’s unwritten 'revolutionary thesis' and reads as equal parts confession, travelogue, and dreamscape ... It is also a powerful vision of the West as unsuspecting cultural mongrel. One of the great joys of the book is to follow Ritter down the rabbit hole of artistic cross-pollination between Orient and Occident ... While there seems to be a reflex to lionize Compass as 'more important than ever,' presumably due to the divisiveness of our current moment, I find myself resistant to this take. It diminishes an extraordinary achievement with the burden of a vague and unconvincing humanism. The brilliance of Énard’s novel — the best we’re likely to receive this year — rests on something more fragile and more ambiguous. Culture is permeable, it proclaims — and just as likely to absorb the bad as the good. We ought to celebrate this coalescence, but we are also morally obliged to take its inventory.