Unlike many so called classic texts I have read this one doesn t seem to have dated much At least not in its first half The writing is thought by scholars to have begun about 1809 As Salman Rushdie says in an attached blurb it reads like the most brilliant modern novel I think that might be an effect of the recent English translation offered here that seems to give the text such a contemporary feel, like a modern day historic novel.The premise is that in the 1760s a Walloon officer named Alphonse commissioned by Philip V while traveling on leave in Andalucia, for centuries an Islamic land until the Reconquista, finds himself skirting a realm of ghosts, phantoms, specters, kindly bandits, storytelling gypsies and cabbalists Because he does not at first succumb to the erotic offerings of these creatures he has a very obnoxious sense of personal honor he is able to preserve enough presence of mind to chronicle the many weird goings on The book is full of the so called Magic Realism used by Gabriel Garc a M rquez and Rushdie himself There are stories nested within stories nested within stories The narrative is very straightforward The characters wake up, go out, have dinner, come home, have sex, go to sleep, get up in the morning, and so on, and all of this action occurs during the briefest passages of text There is the sense of the action moving full tilt, almost out of control, but never really It is only the impression created by the author s highly compressed style.Among the treats offered by the narrative are vast underground hideouts carved out of the stone, sun scorched landscapes la Don Quixote, convincing erotic encounters between men and women, abrupt murders, sometimes by the score At a haunted inn phantoms show up at the stroke of midnight, though it is not known from whence the tolling comes A motif of two men hanged on a gibbet, supposedly brothers of the bandit Zoto, who tells his story here, recurs throughout the early pages At night the men leave the gibbet and get into mischief.There are strange elixirs to be drunk, seeming transportations through time and space, usually during a dream On the whole the book is a kind of onieric wonderland where men are men and women are women of a thankfully extinct old school, except when they re murdering succubi who only wish to eat young men because of the wonderful effect their blood has on the demonic constitution Then the Walloon officer succumbs, as he must, to the charms of the two Muslim women, who from the start have told him they are his cousins A man who watches their erotic encounter sees only Alphonse sexually intimate with the two hanged men From then on Alphonse seems to take some leave of his senses and is never sure if those Muslim women are his cousins defacto wives or not He sees them here in a pair of gypsy sisters, there in two women walking in the desert, but again it s not them Later, he casts caution to the wind when he goes to meet them in an underground chambre d amour Who can blame him It s either go insane or enjoy great if perhaps demonic sex with hot sisters In the meantime the gypsy leader tells his story, the geometer or mathematician tells his, the Wandering Jew tells his, the two Muslim cousins tell theirs, the male cabbalist tells his, the female cabbalist tells hers, and so on All of the characters seek to tell stories that seem realistically within their realm of competence experience It is only the geometer s tale that seems to falter in the mid to late stages One gets the impression that author Potocki had committed himself to a line of disquisition that he could not sustain An astonishing novel of enormous complexity that is nevertheless highly readable, even difficult to put aside when sleep calls Please read it.PS Some time later I began reading Matthew G Lewis s Gothic horror novel, The Monk It seems a likely model for Potocki. And swaggering in at a lithe 630 pages, middleweight champion of Eastern Europe, known as the Polish Decameron, blast them vuvuzelas for The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, a Spanish picaresque novel written in French by a polymathic aristocrat and suicide Across sixty six nights, Walloon officer Alphonse resists the erotic lure of Islamic conversion in the form of two Islamic temptresses, and listens to a series of yarns within yarns within yarns, from such eccentrics as the geometer Vel squez, with his algebraic equations on love and religion, the Gypsy Chief, with his long misadventures involving a meddlesome squire Busqueros an inverse Sancho Panza , and the Wandering Jew, a rather boring man prone to retelling old biblical tales The novel is an epic monster, a monument to classic and timeless storytelling that happily shares a plinth with The Arabian Nights for sheer logorrheic magnificence. Novel in the novel, story of a story in a story told by a story of a story Very enigmatic and trendy, or rather was both of these in the 19th century As it is, engrossing to the maximum. I think I read this back in student days, I only think and with out certainty not for the usual reasons, but on account of the extreme unlikeness of what I recall, a Gothic Arabian nights with a framing narrative of the discovery of the eponymous manuscript by a traveller in Spain a soldier from Belgium , which unleashes a continual plunging into stories, bizarre and convoluted, written by a Pole in French view spoiler this is probably the most reasonable part of the entire spectacle hide spoiler Alphonse, A Young Walloon Officer, Is Travelling To Join His Regiment In Madrid InBut He Soon Finds Himself Mysteriously Detained At A Highway Inn In The Strange And Varied Company Of Thieves, Brigands, Cabbalists, Noblemen, Coquettes And Gypsies, Whose Stories He Records Over Sixty Six Days The Resulting Manuscript Is Discovered Some Forty Years Later In A Sealed Casket, From Which Tales Of Characters Transformed Through Disguise, Magic And Illusion, Of Honour And Cowardice, Of Hauntings And Seductions, Leap Forth To Create A Vibrant Polyphony Of Human Voices Jan Potocki Used A Range Of Literary Styles Gothic, Picaresque, Adventure, Pastoral, Erotica In His Novel Of Stories Within Stories, Which, Like The Decameron And Tales From The Thousand And One Nights, Provides Entertainment On An Epic Scale One of my top 10 novels Stories within stories, full of magic and 18th century Spain in the background. Am I allowed to fully love a book I have never finished A twisting gothic story cycle of tales within tales and then within tales again Kind of an updating of 1001 arabian nights and Dante s Divine Comedy or the Decameron or Canterbery tales for the age of reason Filled with ghoulish horror and lots of duels, weird intrigue, kabbalah, ghosts, hidden treasures, and lots of stories If you are a fan of Milorad Pavic s Dictionary of the Khazars, Isak Dinesen s Seven Gothic Tales, Robert Irwin s Arabian Nightmare, Calvino, Borges, Pamuk s Black Book, John Barth s Sotweed Factor, and Edward Whitte you owe yourself a trip into this dark tangle of a novel, now I should get around to finishing it Potocki is interesting also One of the first aeronauts and also for killing himself with a silver bullet Potocki brought a little bit of everything to this book of tales within tales within tales gothic horror, bildungsroman, swashbuckling adventure, picaresque reminiscent of the great Lazarillo de Tormes, philosophical and theological exposition, libertine erotica, political intrigue, travelogue in other words, a true olla podrida of styles, narrated in an arch, dry, and ultra witty voice that has been admirably delivered from the French original by the English scholar Ian Maclean The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, discovered by a French officer during the Napoleonic seizure of the eponymous city, is ostensibly the diary recorded over the course of sixty six story filled days by Alphonse van Worden, a young Walloon officer on his way to Madrid to join an elite regiment of the Spanish monarch Honour bound to make his way through the wild, rugged, and ominous Sierra Morena a range home to fearsome bandits, gypsies, Moorish refugees, and, portentously, evil spirits and demons in service to the Archfiend the straight laced Alphonse, deserted by his frightened servants, determinedly lodges himself in an abandoned, haunted hostelry close to a ghastly public gallows Los Hermanos from which dangle the hideously disfigured bodies of two local sibling bandits From this fateful decision the young caballero will find himself spending the next sixty six days being regaled, tested, tempted, and discomfited by a parade of characters and entities that he encounters as he journeys through the shadowy vales and gnarled peaks of northern Andalusia ranging from a pair of lascivious muslim sisters succubi, to a one eyed, emaciated automaton whose mind has been claimed by the mountain s madnesses, to the Geometer Vel squez, whose quiet and decent autodidact father a man robbed of his dukedom and his soulmate by his eloquent and cunning Frenchified brother provides what is perhaps the most moving and resplendent of the novel s many monologues.This is an immensely entertaining and thoroughly readable book It becomes apparent that Potocki must have originally planned TMFIS to leantowards the gothic horror stylings of works such as The Monk, only to subsequently steer his literary vessel away from such benighted waters and into the brighter streams of enlightenment naturalism, philosophical speculation and roguish adventure Although this does not detract from the superb quality of Potocki s writing, it does, in my opinion, cause the story to lose some of its wonderful sense of mystery and eeriness This transformation occurs around the time of the appearance of the verbose Gypsy chieftain a central figure to the stories, one who functions as a hub around which the other tales encircle and entwine The accumulation of stories range from the Old World to the New, from the ancient realm which witnessed the birth of Abraham through to the first half of the eighteenth century, though a majority of the action takes place in a beautifully and majestically rendered Spain in the waning days of the Habsburg dynasty The way that characters and plot lines in the various tales interact with and encounter each other guided by the mischievous hand of coincidence and the stentorian hand of fate proves eminently enjoyable for the reader and the breathless declarations of love, the amorous encounters, the dashing swordplay, cunning intrigues, faithless abandonments, and devilish temptations often pitting stoic and taciturn Spaniards against theiremotional European brethren rush the reader headlong through the sixty six days of historic, apocryphal, and cryptic reminiscences.In the introduction, Maclean acknowledges that several critics have complained about the ending that Potocki fashioned, about the sense of letdown in the author s method of tying up all of the various story lines and loose threads Indeed, Potocki had written different, and differing, drafts of several of the daily chapters, and it is still debated whether the current edition represents the definitive assemblage of the Polish polymath s imaginative fiction However, such complaints overlook the sheer readability of The Manuscript Surrounded as I am by bookshelves, every wall bearing tomes that haunt me with the knowledge that, were I to live two lives, I might not make it through all of them, I often found myself tempted to abandon this collection of tall tales to move on tomeaty fare and yet, after telling myself I would partake of just onestory, I would inevitably get drawn in, held rapt while the hours whistled by and another week in textual time had passed hours in which not the slightest trace of boredom could insert itself into page after page of crackling, razor honed wit That, to me, is the ultimate testament to an author s greatness when he has drawn you once within his literary bear hug, you cannot resist the continual desire to go back for another until that melancholy moment arrives when there are noembraces left for him to give. Imagine a drawer You open it, and inside is a story The story also has several additional drawers which, when opened, reveal additional stories with additional drawers inside them This goes on for a while Filled with delicious treats, this book combines all the pleasures of a puzzle box with all the pleasures of a box a of chocolates Best euro I ever spent You should read it immediately. First things first do NOT read anything that gives away spoilers about this book because, in my opinion, it will completely wreck the reading experience This book channels down to an ending that should not be revealed at all, and you really will do yourself a disservice by knowing it ahead of time Believe it or not, the moment I turned the last page I wanted to read this book again Given its 600 plus pages, that says a lot, and I ended up not rereading it, but I very easily could have I loved this book and I loved the people in it, but I spent most of the time in awe of the author s imagination.I will say right up front that this book will not be for everyone It can be incredibly challenging because of the way it is written as a set of stories within stories within stories, which are often stopped and picked up again later rather than just finished at once, which in a couple of cases may require some backtracking Reader expectations also play a role here For example, I was readingreviews and came across one from a very disappointed reader who said that he was upset because he d started this book with the expectation of a fantasy work but instead ended up with literary fiction No comment on that one, but my point is that it s best to just go into it without any preconceived notions, because really, there s so much going on between these covers and so many different literary styles used here that to give it any sort of label would just flat out be folly As the back cover blurb says, it s entertainment on an epic scale, and really, that s how I d approach it In short, relax and go with the flow and you will be rewarded.The nature of this novel is such that I can t give out much detail, but the back cover blurb also reveals that these tales consist partly of characters transformed through disguise, magic and illusion, and that idea,than any other, plays out over and over again throughout this book One such story made me laugh out loud, but there are spots of humor everywhere And there s so much , including arcane and esoteric lore, demons, ghosts, political intrigue, Satan himself, and the Holy Inquisition, and there is not a dull moment to be had in this book I loved it others may not share my experience, but it s one of those rare books that left me with a sense of loss after finishing it, knowing I d come to the end Each and every second with this book was just pure reading bliss.