by Victor Segalen, translated from the French by J.A. Underwood
In this entrancing story of spiritual adventure, a Westerner in Peking seeks the mystery at the heart of the Forbidden City. He takes as a tutor in Chinese the young Belgian René Leys, who claims to be in the know about strange goings-on in the Imperial Palace: love affairs, family quarrels, conspiracies that threaten the very existence of the empire. But whether truth-teller or trickster, the elusive and ever-charming René presents his increasingly dazzled disciple with a visionary glimpse of “an essential palace built upon the most magnificent foundations.”by Victor Segalen, translated from the French by J.A. Underwood
Segalen actively sought to invent new modes of writing, transgressing established boundaries and bringing the exigencies of style to bear on the complex reality he perceived by dint of his various guises as ethnographer, musicologist, doctor, archaeologist, sinologist and poet.... Staging a shadow-play between the real and the imaginary, Segalen's brilliant Rene Leys is at once an epistemological fiction, a roman-a-clef, a meta-fictional meditation and an exercise in auto-fiction.
— The Times Literary Supplement
Allegorical in nature, Rene Leys probes the frustrations of man's inability to grasp the unknown with all the energy of a thriller.
— Publishers Weekly
Victor Segalen belongs to that French-speaking tribe of modern literary nomads that includes Rimbaud, Pierre Loti, Blaise Cendrars, Henri Michaux, and Michel Leiris.... New York Review Books is to be commended for having saved [this book] from oblivion.... Rene Leys, whose journal entries run from February to November 1911, is very much a novel about this hiatus in Chinese history, an allegory of a timeless imperial tradition in its death throes and of a revolutionary modernity slouching to be born.
— Richard Sieburth, Bookforum