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A review, and links to other information about and reviews of Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish. Walter Abish has dovetailed his novel within a Procrustean scheme that has the terrifying and irrefutable logic of the alphabet. Alphabetical. Alphabetical Africa kept cropping up again and again, so here it is. In this novel, as you can probably tell from the first line quoted above, there.

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Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish. Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review ‘s biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge and remind and warn you that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

The complete review ‘s Review:.

Alphabetical AfricaWalter Abish’s first novel, is famous for the tight constraint under which it is written. Though not a member of the Oulipo, Abish has almost literally taken a page out of their book.

The novel has 52 chapters, headed, alphabetically, A through Z, and then Z alphaabetical A. The first chapter “A” contains only words beginning with the letter A, the second abisy only words beginning with the letters A or B, all the way up to the 26th and 27th chapters both “Z”which can include words beginning abidh all letters of the alphabet.

Then the letters disappear again: The 31st chapter the second “V”-chapter again no longer has any words beginning with the letters W, X, Y, or Z, for example. This continues all the way down to the last chapter the second “A”-chapterwhich again consists only of words beginning with the letter A. Each chapter also begins with a word beginning with the letter-heading — so the 26th and 27th chapters both begin with words starting with the letter Z, for example. As it turns out, Abish didn’t quite live up to his self-imposed constraint — see our list of Alphabetical Errata.

This makes it bit more difficult to take the endeavour entirely seriously maybe it should be An Almost Alphabetical Africa? The constraint is an integral part of the text. There is no way around it. The limitations are tremendous: No the and then and why and who and what for most of the novel.

A central figure is Queen Quat, but predictably — indeed inevitably — her presence is carefully circumscribed. Abish manages surprisingly well. Even the most constrained chapters make at least some sort of sense. So, for example, early in the first chapter: Ages ago an archaeologist, Albert, alias Arthur, ably attended an archaic African armchair affair at Antibes, attracting attention as an archaeologist and atheist. There is a flow to novel, a definite build up as more and more becomes possible and expressible until the apex or rather: Then comes the reversal, with its inexorable decline, leading to the desperate final chapter, a list of “another”s ending in: Like the alphabet, Africa too shifts shape in this novel.


Throughout — even as the book grows — there is always the awareness that Africa is shrinking, vanishing. Among other things, it is also about recording events — where again the African experience — history without a record — is central.

This complicates matters, but it does not wlphabetical African history less useful than other forms and approaches — indeed, alphaebtical Abish knows: It can confound historians, authors, booksellers, and also doom armies. How sad, early on, when Abish notes: How does a German express himself. He has a dictionary.

Alphabetical Africa – Walter Abish – Google Books

Words alphabefical don’t suffice for any and all contemplation, words are a barrier to any and all expression. Words are both tool and hindrance.

And Abish makes this very clear by presenting his novel with these odd constraints, finding that the words from an arbitrary section of the dictionary are no more or less capable of expressing what needs be expressed than all the words in the world. Abish’s Africans also have clicking languages that can’t be reduced to the written word and thus remain outside his fiction.

He also takes words from African dictionaries, listing them — but this too provides little additional insight.

“Alphabetical Africa” by Walter Abish () | Fell From Fiction

Even the threats the narrator receives are “veiled” and “muffled” while actions speak a bit more clearly than words, as his enemies then blow up his car and garage. As the book progresses and the number of permissible words grows, he finds: I find fewer and fewer impediments. Alphabeticwl are more words available with each chapter, but all the words in the world aren’t enough. Stoically he faces their loss then too, realizing that they offered less than he had originally hoped.

There are also other plots to the novel.

Alphabetical Africa

There is ant-warfare of a very colourful sort. There are all sorts of shady characters, and above all there is the elusive Alva. Atrica book is about her, in many ways. At least it is meant to be, but all sorts of other things come up as well while Alva proves particularly difficult to pin down. There are conflicts galore in this Africa. Queen Quat figures prominently for a while — though the narrator finds, looking back over newspaper clippings, that “her name has afriica omitted” — a common fate for characters in this novel, one suspects.


Form, in Alphabetical Africais inseparable from content.

The content alone, rewritten in everyday prose, would probably not allhabetical for a great read. The storyline is too haphazard, the events occasionally forced, the progress illogical. But the form — the constraint that holds Abish back — is actually a huge advance. Part of the fun is in watching to see whether and how he can sustain it.

The fact that he fails a few times is particularly worrisome — how could that happen? But it also gives a lot to the story. One literally breathes easier as the chapters progress and the language is progressively less constrained. Then the tightness returns, near the end. And Abish writes well within the constraints. The taut early and late chapters are particularly good.

One can see where Abish is going, and it is entertaining to go with him. Part of the pleasure is like that of reading a rhymed poem, of knowing what must come at the end of the next line, but there is more to it here, since it is a larger constraint. Alphabetical Africa is, quite surprisingly, a riveting read. It is certainly something completely different. It is also an unexpected success.

Each chapter is meant to only contain words beginning with the letters of the alphabet up to whatever the chapter-heading-letter is — so the fifth and the forty-eighth chapter both “E” only alphabeticao words beginning with A, B, Walteer, D, and E, while the 25th and 28th chapter “Y” can contain wbish beginning with any letter except Z. Abish does an admirable job of staying within this constraint — but not a perfect one.

Which is actually pretty embarrassing, given that the constraint is the main point of the book. Blame the editor and abisy — always blame the editor! The complete review came across the following slips: The first O -chapter absih a premature P in the penultimate paragraph: The second Water -chapter includes an impermissible I in the first paragraph: The second C -chapter contains an impermissible I near the end alphabeical the first paragraph: The same second C -chapter repeats the mistake two paragraphs later: Note that the two last mistakes are marginal one — in the sense that the I ‘s hug the margin and maybe don’t stand out.

Still — someone should have caught them. Buy them an editor! Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs. Alphabetical Africa – US.

Alphabetical Africa – UK. Alphabetical Africa – Canada. Alphabetisches Afrika – Deutschland.