The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen (Translated by Donald O White) - review by Anthea Bell

Anthea Bell

Misfits on Mallorca

The Island of Second Sight


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This long and entertaining picaresque novel is the magnum opus of Albert Vigoleis Thelen (1903–1989), and has an intriguing history. The original German edition appeared in 1953, to praise from Paul Celan, Siegfried Lenz and Thomas Mann, who described it as ‘one of the greatest books of the twentieth century’. But although it has been translated into Dutch, French and Spanish it has waited until now for an English version. Donald White, professor emeritus of German at Amherst College, spent over a quarter of a century on his translation, working on it at intervals, and met Thelen and his Swiss wife Beatrice twice to discuss it with them. 

The couple are the protagonists of this partly autobiographical novel; the author calls his fictional alter ego Vigoleis or Vigo, and the narrative covers their years on the island of Mallorca in the early 1930s. They arrive in response to a deathbed appeal from Beatrice’s brother Zwingli (also

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