The grandson of Prince Genji lives outside of space and time and wanders the grounds of an old monastery in Kyoto. The monastery, too, is timeless: a place of prayer and deliverance, with barely a trace of any human presence. The wanderer is searching for a garden that has long captivated him: “he continually saw the garden in his mind’s eye without being able to touch its existence.” This exquisitely beautiful novel by National Book Award–winner László Krasznahorkai—perhaps his most serene and poetic work—describes a search for the unobtainable and the riches to be discovered along the way. Despite the difficulties in finding the garden, the reader is closely introduced to the construction processes of the monastery (described in poetic detail) as well as the geological and biological processes of the surrounding area (the underground layers revealed beneath a bed of moss, the travels of cypresstree seeds on the wind, feral foxes and stray dogs meandering outside the monastery’s walls), making this an unforgettable meditation on nature, life, history, and being.
The universality of Krasznahorkai’s vision rivals that of Gogol’s Dead Souls and far surpasses all the lesser concerns of contemporary writing.
—W. G. Sebald
By turns beguiling dream and elusive allegory, it is an object lesson in both scale and perspective, masterfully juggling orders of magnitude across time and space. That such enormity can be contained in little over 100 pages is perhaps nothing short of a miracle.
This is a book preoccupied with infinity. Krasznahorkai’s project, it seems, is to thwart the passing of time through a program of looking. It takes millions of years of chance occurrences to make a bird in its perfect machinery and just a moment for it to be destroyed, impossible to be remade.
—Laura Preston, The Believer
The book considers the extraordinarily precarious existence of the garden, which the omniscient narrator makes painstakingly clear depends on “infinitely complex forces,” on the unlikely succession of one unlikely moment after another, on germination, wind direction, weather conditions, and so on. Krasznahorkai evinces a wide-eyed appreciation of these occurrences, of this “bafflingly complicated system of nature’s ongoing dreadful happenstance.”
—Cory Oldweiler, LARB
Across his career, the Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai has proven that he’s more than capable of tackling big, thorny ideas…his novels are meant to unsettle, caution, and provoke. A Mountain to the North is pleasantly lighter…but still retains the same thematic grandeur. Here, Krasznahorkai is offering perspective more than politics. He has a worldview to show us, so it falls upon us to, “simply look, and be silent.”
—Dylan Cook, Cleaver Magazine
In the fictions of László Krasznahorkai, everything is withheld and nothing is disclosed…The feeling this elicits in the reader, in turn, in one of permanent approach, like the trudge across a vast expanse toward a distant village that never seems to get any closer. This is not the work of authorial malice, but an earnest attempt to conscript the reader to share in mutual incomprehensibility, the abject failure at true knowledge that belongs equally to all humanity.
—Jared Marcel Pollen, Astra Magazine
Best known for his dense, entropic fictions and grubby, Gogolian characters, Laszlo Krasznahorkai will surprise longtime readers with the cosmic serenity of his latest…Gorgeously translated by Ottilie Mulzet.
—Dustin Illingworth, The New York Times
In the fiction of László Krasznahorkai, man struggles to achieve infinity only to find madness as his consolation prize. In A Mountain to the North, a Lake to the South, Paths to the West, a River to the East, the pretty grandson of a prince seeks a mythical garden that haunts his every waking moment. His search leads him through a labyrinthine and seemingly abandoned monastery, whose astonishing beauty and inevitable decay the author painstakingly details. His work details a deeply deterministic worldview, in which suffering and sublimity are equally arbitrary conditions of existence. His prodigious sentences (translated from the Hungarian by faithful collaborator Ottilie Mulzet) are burdened with an accumulation of constitutive detail; they fold in, double back, and refract upon themselves, ever more quickly accelerating our attentions toward the anxieties of oblivion, which rapidly approaches but never seems to arrive.