A sprawling historical novel about the Deliuskin-Scriabin family, made up of six generations of geniuses and madmen. Beginning in the mid-18th century in Russia, across Europe and ending in late 20th-century Argentina, the characters' lives play out in different branches of art, politics and science in such radical ways that they transform the world and its reality. The narrator's ancestor, Frantisek Deliuskin, invents a new form of music in the 18th century; his son, Andrei Deliuskin, makes some marginal annotations to the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola that are later interpreted by Lenin as an instruction manual to carry out the Russian Revolution of 1917; Esau Deliuskin, following the course of his father, creates a socialist utopian society; and down through the generations to the narrator, whose creation takes him back in time and space to the moment of the Big Bang.
A quixotic enterprise concerned with a quixotic enterprise founded on a desire to understand and memorialize a succession of quixotic enterprises. For most of its length, The Absolute takes the form of a group biography ... The result...is both exhausting and exhilarating, not by turns but at the same time, by virtue of the same choices and flourishes ... The title baldly states the theme. Each successive narrative centers on the search for transcendence ... The atmosphere is unflaggingly cerebral, both concerned with erudition and dependent on it ... The novel of ideas frequently hinges on the counterintuitive analogy — symbolic affiliations that sweep aside superficial trappings. In this case, inherited thinking about the opposition between theory and practice, the mystical and materialist, is tested and found wanting ... If Guebel’s taste for colliding paradoxes and collapsing dichotomies suggests a debt to Borges, then the worldliness, wild comedy and encroachment on the terrain of recorded fact recall Saul Bellow ... The central quality on offer is the satisfying congruence of theme and form. The book we are reading, or the invented book it encases, is an embodiment of the questing syndrome under scrutiny, while Guebel himself, in composing a late-modernist hybrid of essay, psychoanalytic case study, history lesson, saga and farce, displays more than his share of symptoms. The novel’s final section serves up a clinching twist, revealing the human cost of the biographical legwork and also hinting at its deeper purpose.
Exceptional ... As the characters experience love, jealousy, and despair, Guebel offers erudite meditations on music, art, and philosophy, all marked by a superb use of language. This is best savored slowly.
Intellectually adventurous, multigenerational novel of a family’s quest to find meaning in the world ... Sprawling ... A Borges-ian masterwork that neatly blends magic realism, mysticism, and off-color yarns into a superb whole.