Laurent Binet (Paris, 1972) rose to fame a decade ago with a truly striking inaugural novel, HHhH (2011), where he encapsulated, as is usual in all kinds of creators and craftsmen, the whole of what he would have to offer Over the years, until today. And it is not that Binet is a prolific author: more interested, it seems, in the patient maturation of his arguments , and, above all, the most favorable angle from which to attack them, he has produced only two titles since the date on which appeared for the first time in the shop windows, The seventh function of language (2016), and this one, Civilizations, which we are commenting on today.
We said that the first of them already contained what has since been identified in the rest of its pages: the fragmentation, the multiplicity of foci and perspectives, the erudition, the distance from the narrator, if it exists, the coldness, the analytical bias. and playful, humor wrapped in irony. Binet is a typically French type of writer, who could only have found ferment in an intellectual soil like the one that extends beyond the Pyrenees: unbelieving and brilliant, attentive to the paradox and the immediate flash of ideas rather than to their depth. , interested in high culture, or what is commonly understood as such, walking hand in hand with amenity and massive sales on the shelves.
In HHhH, following (but not very convinced either) that current superstition according to which the standard narration is outdated and the writer has to pick from here and there, from one genre to another, mixing drama and essay, journalism, autobiography and any thing he bumped into along the way, offered us a particular report on an event that, despite not appearing in capital letters in the history books, had a considerable impact on the development of the Second World War: the assassination of Reinhard Heyndrich , boss of the SS and administrative head of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, renowned murderer and postin scoundrel.
Thus, he sent us an original hybrid between documentary, adventure novel and memory of his young years (he did his military service in Prague, where he met the events), which weighed down while enhancing its main distinctive feature, the overlapping of voices, prisms and narrative tenses . HHhH was followed, five years later, by The Seventh Function of Language, a kind of detective story with parody borders, whose supporting actors were none other than Foucault, Barthes and other mandarins of the post-structuralist establishment. It was impossible to concoct anything more epatant, more enfant terrible, more chic.
The starting point of Civilizations is the famous beginning of ukrony that we have already mentioned other times here. The paternity of him is usually attributed to Philip K. Dick, who in The Man in the High Castle described the United States of an alternative world where the Japanese had won the last war and were subject to the occupying Axis forces: anyway, the idea is surely older or more distant and can be be traced in texts from, for example, the Adolfo Bioy Casares of the 1940s, such as La plot celestial.
The artifice consists of the following: the author chooses a random event in the story, significant or not, and uses it as a point where to nail the compass; then he draws a circle and erases everything that has happened since then, putting in its place what could have happened if the angle of the circumference had been greater or less: what would happen if we concealed a certain historical event, altered it, changed its sign and we attend to its consequences. Very popular resource in recent years, especially in the field of science fiction, has allowed us to peek into parallel realitieswhere Hitler met with President Kennedy, John Lennon was still alive in a beach hut, or, speaking of things more closely, the flag that won the war of all the film writers in our country had three colors instead of two.
In reality, the uchronia that Binet envisions is not so much the result of an isolated event in the past as of a combination of them. First and foremost, the fact that the Norsemen were not content to reach the north of present-day Canada from Greenland on their random excursions in the 7th and 8th centuries, but went much farther south, as far south as Mexico and Cuba, no less, where They would come into contact with Mayans and Caribs. This would have facilitatedarrival to the new continent of the horse, the forge of iron and the use of the wheel, which would radically change their way of understanding civilization and of considering its development. So when the Inca prince Atahualpa, faced with his half-brother Huascar over inheritance issues, is forced to flee north and, off the coast of Cuba, collides with the caravels abandoned by an ancient Castilian expedition (massacreed by the indigenous ), will be able to cross the ocean and settle in Lisbon with his retinue of 200 faithful, including a naked woman who acts as a prophetess, several parrots and a puma. The rest consists of having fun fantasizingas, instead of the gloomy Spanish empire that exported the sword and the Bible everywhere, the generous domain of the Inca extends, devoted to the Sun, committed to religious freedom, inexhaustibly nourished by the abundant gold of the Bolivian mountains.
Following in the footsteps of Binet’s earlier novels, though not as disjointed, the story progresses through patches or fragments of documents, diaries, sagas, historians’ chronicles, letters, and the like. The result is a curious toy, well written and no doubt plenty of wit, that will please the well-informed reader and horrify those devotees of the glorious past who have recently grown up here and there, among the carnival of political acronyms that we suffer from.

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