For Isabel: A Mandala


Translated from by

Published: September 5th, 2017





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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.

Tabucchi creates an intricate web that connects past to present, dream-life to waking. The book is filled with evocative images that seem to float free of mere plot constraints [...] Harris carries the delicate magic of consciousness from Italian into English with deceptive ease. She works with admirable precision to capture the voices of the different speakers and the details of the shifting context, yet she never sacrifices the dreamy texture of the writing.

Geoffrey Brock, Peter Constantine, and Sarah Stickney, 2018 Italian Prose in Translation Award

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

One 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

An essential testament to Tabucchi's talent, a masterwork written with diligence and care... The novel is an epitome of Tabucchi's work, an account of exotic travels and blossoming, abstruse identities, a dreamlike and ironic limbo... Literary alchemy.

Javier Aparicio Maydeu, El Pais

A masterfully written work made of pauses and delays, realistic details and openings into the fantastic... Tabucchi's art is deployed here in all its force and fascination. It wins us over once again.

Fabio Gambero, Le Monde

Tabucchi's prose creates a deep, heart-wrenching nostalgia and constantly evokes the pain of recognizing the speed of life's passing which everyone knows but few have the strength to accept... wonderfully thought-provoking and beautiful.

Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered (for The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico)

[T]he author’s final love letter to Portugal, a nation he loved as much as his own. It is an idyll for obsessives, a love song for the long ago and a poem for people and places that live in our hearts forever.

Jim Ruland, San Diego City Beat

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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