The Anatomist

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9780385491327: The Anatomist

Though it is set in sixteenth-century Venice, Federico Andahazi's The Anatomist could not be more contemporary in its wit, its ironic turns, and its themes of hypocrisy, censorship, and the nature of sexuality--so much so, in fact, that it was denounced by the wealthy sponsor of Argentina's prestigious Fortabat Prize, sparking a literary scandal and charges of modern-day censorship that eerily echoed the book's major themes.

As the novel opens, Mateo Colombo, the most famous physician in Renaissance Italy, finds himself behind bars at the behest of Church authorities. He has been charged with heresy, but not for organizing a clumsy team of body snatchers to feed his anatomical research, nor for his obsessive pursuit of Mona Sofia, Venice's most beautiful prostitute. His crime is even more heinous, not only heretical in the Church's eyes, but equally subversive of the whole secular order of Renaissance society. Like his namesake Christopher Columbus, he has made a discovery of enormous significance for mankind. But whereas Christopher voyaged outward to explore the world and found America, Mateo looked inward, across the mons veneris, and uncovered the clitoris.

Based on historical fact, The Anatomist is an utterly fascinating excursion into Renaissance Italy, as evocative of time and place as the work of Umberto Eco. Above all, it is an audacious novel, exposing not only the social hypocrisies of the day, but also the prejudices and sexual taboos that may still be with us four hundred years later. Brilliantly translated from the Spanish by Alberto Manguel, The Anatomist introduces American readers to a new writer of consummate wit and subversive flair.

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Review:

"O my America, my new-found-land!" Mateo Renaldo Colombo (or Columbus, to give him his English name) might have written in his De re anatomica."

It is no accident that Federico Andahazi draws a parallel between his Renaissance hero, the anatomist Mateo Colombo, and the explorer Christopher Columbus. It is the conceit of his first novel, The Anatomist (beautifully translated from the Spanish by Alberto Manguel), that both Colombos made "equally momentous and disturbing" discoveries. Every schoolchild can tell you what Columbus's was; less well known, perhaps, is that of his countryman and fellow "explorer." "Mateo's America is less distant and infinitely smaller than Christopher's; in fact, it's not much larger than the head of a nail." In short, Mateo Renaldo Colombo discovered the Amor Veneris, the clitoris.

Andahazi makes much of this discovery, not to mention its discoverer: "The discovery of Mateo Colombo's America was, all things considered, an epic counterpointed by an elegy. Mateo Colombo was as fierce and heartless as Christopher. Like Christopher (to use an appropriate metaphor) he was a brutal colonizer who claimed for himself all rights to the discovered land, the female body." Certainly women readers will view this description with at least as much irony as Native Americans regard that other Columbus's "discovery" of a land they had known about all along.

The Anatomist is based on a historical figure and historical fact; what Andahazi provides is his title character's heart and soul. The fictional Colombo is driven by desire for the high-priced courtesan Mona Sofia. Though Mateo adores her, the heartless Sofia regards him as nothing more than a paying customer. After breaking both his heart and his bank account over her, Colombo returns to his native Padua whence he is eventually called to Florence to treat a saintly young widow, Inés de Torremolinos. Inés is "infinitely beautiful," and her illness is "far from common." While examining her, he discovers "between his patient's legs a perfectly formed, erect and diminutive penis." Land ho.

Though Colombo's "discovery," first in Inés and then in other women, offers plenty of opportunity for eroticism, the most compelling aspect of The Anatomist lies in the Church's reaction to De re anatomica, the book Colombo writes detailing his find. The Renaissance may well have signaled the birth of new art, science, and philosophy, but it was also the age of Inquisition--and Colombo's unfolding of "the key to the heart of all women ... the anatomical cause of love" soon lands him in prison on charges of heresy and Satanism. The trial, Mateo's defense, and the surprising aftermath make for provocative reading and raise The Anatomist above the level of the merely erotic to a more intriguing philosophical plane, one that is sure to prompt a lively discussion or two. --Alix Wilber

From the Publisher:

International acclaim for The Anatomist:

"A fascinating book. The way Andahazi communicates the sense of exploration and possibility in Renaissance science, and the inextricable links with philosophy and religion are extremely effective."
--Iain Pears, author of An Instance of the Fingerpost

"With The Anatomist, Andahazi deftly mines that delicious vein of wit and sensuality that runs from Boccaccio to Fellini, while slyly dissecting one of man's oldest obsessions: a woman's pleasure."
--Laura Esquivel, author of Like Water for Chocolate

"A universally relevant sexual farce, a stinging challenge to all systems of belief from the past four hundred years, a timely publishing event--and an elegantly written novel."
--La Prensa (Buenos Aires)

"His knowledge of his epoch and his capacity for invention situate Andahazi among his European contemporaries such as Patrick Suskind, author of Perfume."
--Página 30 (Buenos Aires)

"Four centuries after Colombo's discovery, this story has not lost its power of subversion."
--Le Figaro (Paris)

"Andahazi carries us into an erudite, erotic, philosophical fantasy, a fantasy which is also filled with irony."
--Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris)

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Federico Andahazi
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