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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Disruptive Fiction in Group Writing: "Q" by "Luther Blissett" and "Manituana" by "Wu Ming" (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official "Wu Ming" Website (English)
Download for Free "Q" and "54" (English, Italian and other languages)
Download for Free "Manituana" (Italian only for now)
Order "Q" HERE
Order "Manituana" HERE

Introduction: Some years ago a group of four previously unknown Italian authors rode to bestsellerdom and (group) celebrity by borrowing the name of Luther Blissett, an Italian Serie A player of Afro-Caribbean origins to write a disruptive, uneven in parts but powerful and ultimately superb novel "Q" which is essentially a paean to freedom and the fight against the powerful. Later, the authors renaming themselves "Wu Ming" to avoid controversy, published several more novels, some together like "54" or the recent "Manituana", some individually as Wu Ming 2 or Wu Ming 5.

I have not heard of these books until about a month ago when author Mark C. Newton of the recent excellent major league fantasy debut "Nights of Villjamur" (FBC Rv + Interview) and the upcoming superb sequel "City of Ruin" (read by me as final draft, more about it here closer to pub date, Jun 2010), mentioned them to me and I got intrigued.

Since the Wu Ming foundation graciously made available "Q" free for download in various languages including English, I had it available instantly and I got hooked on opening it, so it became my main fiction read while several days later I got a print copy of "Manituana" (free download Italian only for now) and read it in an evening so absorbing it was; though the denser but "meatier" Q remained with me as one of the best novels I read this year.

"Q" is narrated by an unnamed freedom fighter and rebel that started as a student of Luther at Wittenberg, but later disgusted by Luther's cozying up to princes and shying away from the revolutionary implications of his rejection of Rome, joined Thomas Muntzer in his 1524-1525 doomed uprising for freedom and equality against the powerful. Surviving the harsh repression, our narrator of many names becomes a "professional" rebel and freedom fighter either directly as in the Munster Anabaptist revolution of 1534-35 or indirectly in subverting the powerful Fuger banking house, preaching Anabaptism in the heartland of Catholicism or sponsoring underground printers of forbidden works.

However, Q a secret agent of the most reactionary Catholic Cardinal Carafa follows our hero's path and we see Q's machinations through his letters addressed to his master which are interspersed with the novel's main narration - though these machinations are not always quite as we expect since Carafa's main interest is preserving the power of Rome which sometimes means allying with the Protestant rebels against the mighty Charles of Spain; the identity of Q is slowly revealed both to us and to our narrator and the final meeting between the two that climaxes the novel is a powerful finale.

Q hooked me from the first page, though it took me a little to get what's what since the narration jumps back and forth in time for the first 100 pages or so. After that it became a page turner that I could not put down to the excellent end. A panoramic novel that deserves all the acclaim it got and more, its strong leftist ethos reminded me powerfully of Howard Fast' Spartacus - the novel better known by its later adaptation in the famous 60's movie - though Q is also a novel of our times in blood, gore, language...

"The powerful is basterds and the basterds become powerful" may be a truism, but through the many adventures of our multi-faceted narrator - who also reminded me strongly of the picaresque anti-heroes of Mika Waltari especially Michael the Finn - we see the illustration of the above principle in blood and violent suppression of the oppressed as well as in the violent reprisals of the leaders of the oppressed when they get to be the basterds...

Highly, highly recommended as a dark, powerful and no-illusions read, you can get a taste of it from the free download linked above!

I was so impressed by Q that I decided to immediately give a try to "Manituana" despite that its subject was of much less interest to me. As the name implies, Manituana follows the tribulations of the Six Nations of the Iroquis and their leader Joseph Brant in what became for them the tragedy of the American Revolution and essentially the death of their nation.

The most powerful Native American
group in the Mohawk River with a constitution hundreds of years old, the Iroquois have coexisted under the protection of the English Crown with the land-hungry colonists for a long time, but now that the protection may be gone when the colonists revolt, their land is in danger to be passed through fire and sword by the rebels.

Joseph Brant a leader of the Iroquois of mixed blood and respected by the English travels to London and to Canada to try save his people, while Washington gives the fatal orders to evict or massacre the Indians.

"Manituana" is very well written and a page turner, but it is even darker than Q and while it is the first of a planned trilogy and ends on a somewhat hopeful note, I was less impressed with it mainly because Joseph Brant is not that a compelling character to make the book stand out in the way the larger than life narrator of Q and the powerful supporting characters do in that novel.
However for a look at the dark side of the American Revolution, including orders of Washington and other leading American generals, "Manituana" holds true to the "disruptive" intent of its authors. I recommend it also and I am interested in the promised sequels


Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read the post. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

Fabio Fernandes said...

I had read "Q" a long time ago in Portuguese, but had no idea of the existence of "Manituana" - an error I will promptly correct. Thank you for the (as always) wonderful review, Liviu!


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