The Glory of the EmpireA Novel, A History
by Jean d'Ormesson, translated from the French by Barbara Bray, introduction by Daniel Mendelsohn
The Glory of the Empire is the rich and absorbing history of an extraordinary empire, at one point a rival to Rome. Rulers such as Basil the Great of Onessa, who founded the Empire but whose treacherous ways made him a byword for infamy, and the romantic Alexis the bastard, who dallied in the fleshpots of Egypt, studied Taoism and Buddhism, returned to save the Empire from civil war, and then retired “to learn to die,” come alive in The Glory of the Empire, along with generals, politicians, prophets, scoundrels, and others. Jean d’Ormesson also goes into the daily life of the Empire, its popular customs, and its contribution to the arts and the sciences, which, as he demonstrates, exercised an influence on the world as a whole, from the East to the West, and whose repercussions are still felt today. But it is all fiction, a thought experiment worthy of Jorge Luis Borges, and in the end The Glory of the Empire emerges as a great shimmering mirage, filling us with wonder even as it makes us wonder at the fugitive nature of power and the meaning of history itself.
Jean D'Ormesson, introduction by Daniel Mendelsohn
D'Ormesson provides witty fictional documentation, parodies opinions of historians and literati (there is a one-line parody of Walt Whitman), borrows outrageously and has caught brilliantly the "Where is Nineveh now?" tone of sunset reflection. A tour de force.
No epic—sung, printed, or filmed—equals the sweeping turbulence of the 1,000-year history of the Empire...D’Ormesson’s satire undermines important assumptions of the reigning ideology: that history is objective; narratives, neutral; that language transmits pre-existing truth...[The novel] is pure pleasure...it will absorb you, puzzle you, make you laugh...So powerful is the narrative that the passive reader risks overlooking much of the satire; the active reader, however, can find materials for a debunking operation the likes of which d’Ormesson himself perhaps never imagined.
—William Beauchamp, The New York Times