For Isabel: A Mandala


Translated from by

Published: September 5th, 2017


    ebook (ePub)


Book Description

Isabel disappeared many years ago. Tadeus Slowacki, a dead Polish writer, has returned to Lisbon from a star in order to learn the truth about her. Rumors abound: Isabel died in prison under Salazar’s regime, or perhaps was never arrested at all. As Tadeus interviews one old acquaintance of hers after the next, a chameleon-like portrait of a young, ideological woman emerges, ultimately bringing Tadeus on a metaphysical journey across continents and through time. Constructed in the form of a mandala, For Isabel is the spiraling search for an enigma, an investigation into time and existence, the power of words, and the limits of the senses. In this posthumous work, Tabucchi creates an ingenious narrative, a whimsical, cosmic detective novel tracing circles around a lost woman and the ultimate inaccessible truth.

To find one’s way through For Isabel is certainly not easy, but it is rewarding, and its joyful confusion always rests firmly on the edge of genius, ready to be found.

Samuel Graydon, The Times Literary Supplement

[A] detective story, a fable of sorts, a tour of European cities and a series of wild and eccentric characters... It’s a cliché to say it’s about the journey instead of the destination, but For Isabel finds a clever way to say it. 'Just think of me as someone who searches,' Tadeus says. And throughout the novel, the search is satisfying.


[For Isabel is] more than the story of a missing girl; it is history recalled as though in a dream, hovering briefly, through the combination of Tabucchi’s elegiac prose and Harris’s lucid translation, over life and death.

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

The book has a mercurial, dream-like quality that is stunning in its subtlety. Never heavy-handed, this quiet novel is as beautiful and profound as a landscape painting.

Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore

The one hundred luminous pages of For Isabel follow the narrator, Tadeus... Not only does he learn of Isabel’s fate, but he also arrives at a clearer understanding of photography, of writing, of the impermanence of life itself... Translated elegantly and seamlessly by Elizabeth Harris.

Natalia Sarkissian, Numéro Cinq Magazine

[O]ne man is journeying through concentric circles of evidence to uncover deeper ideas about truth ... [T]here's a satisfying richness to the whole, and translator Harris gracefully navigates the narrator's tonal shift from gumshoe to spiritual seeker, making the story lyrical and surprising while avoiding airiness. An ... engaging jaunt into the ineffable.

Kirkus Reviews

[A] mandala of regret and forgiveness. In this sense, For Isabel, with its easy prose and vibrant scenes, may speak to anyone.

World Literature Today

His unbounded restlessness has come to an end, and Tabucchi has finally reached the center of his consciousness.

Angelo Guglielmi, L’Unità

As he did with Requiem and Indian Nocturne, Antonio Tabucchi offers us another enchanting story that wanders between reality and fantasy, between daily life and dream, while taking us on a deeply moving journey into the human soul.

Gaspare Trapani, Forum Italicum

For Isabel isn’t 'a' story by Tabucchi; in some ways, it can be defined as 'the' story—what he tried to write for so many years… An homage to literature as a form of knowledge…

Paolo Mauri, la Repubblica

For Isabel is, in the best sense, weird, with its unusual feel and (ir)reality.

M.A.Orthofer, The Complete Review

Tabucchi’s language is spare and lyrical, his narrative lush in history and character, and the novel ends on a quietly peaceful note that seems a fitting farewell to the author himself. For literary readers who like a mystical touch.

Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Read an excerpt of For Isabel in Guernica Magazine.

The New York Times remembers Antonio Tabucchi.

Translator Elizabeth Harris gives an interview about her love of literary translation.

Chosen for World Literature Today’s list of 75 Notable Translations of 2017.

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