Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai – A Review

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Seiobo, by the Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai, is a book unlike any other I have read. It is difficult to classify: is it a novel, or a book of short stories, or essays, or all of the above? The chapter numbers follow a Fibonacci sequence: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, … I am not sure why Krasznahorkai numbered them this way.

Another oddity about the book is the author’s style. He writes sentences that go on for two or three pages. They are separated by commas and semi-colons rather than by periods. Each chapter is about an art form: painting, sculpture, music, architecture and noh masks, and about the lives of artists and those who appreciate art.

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One reads, for instance, about the genius of Filipino Lippi, who learns to paint by observing other painters. Characters tend to stay in their assigned chapters. In other words, like a collection of short stories, a chapter’s characters are different from and unrelated to those of any other chapter in the novel. The only exception is the Japanese goddess Seiobo, who appears in two chapters.

Why did Krasznahorkai write this book? I think he wants to say something about the quest to overcome time through art. Seiobo has a peach tree that blooms every thousand years. Those who eat its fruit become immortal. Certain masterpieces survive the test of time.

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The Venus de Milo, for instance, has been around for centuries and is still appreciated. People and civilizations, however, disintegrate. “They scream that this [death] was awaiting them…the same fate awaits us.” Art is a way of overcoming one’s mortality.

I enjoyed reading this book. Krasznahorkai writes beautifully. If you are interested in art, and/or are a history buff, this would be a fascinating and well-researched read. If you are not interested in art or history, you might be interested in them after reading this novel.

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Krasznahorkai, László. Seiobo There Below. Trans. Ottilie Mulzet. New York: New Directions Book, 2013.

Jason Vaz, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic studying theology at Regis College, University of Toronto.

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