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Benjamín Labatut Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

When We Cease to Understand the World (2019)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Benjamin Labatut
Benjamin Labatut was born in Rotterdam in 1980. He grew up in Buenos Aires, The Hague, and Lima, and then moved to Santiago, when he was fourteen.

One of Benjamin’s main literary references was Samir Nazal, a Chilean poet, whom he met in the year 2005, and who acted as a mentor during his early days. Nazal helped him during the writing of the first book he published “Antarctica Starts Here”, which is a collection of seven stories. Some of Benjamin’s other influences include W. G. Sebald, Pascal Quingard, William Burroughs, Eliot Weinberger, and Roberto Bolano.

Benjamin had been fascinated with physics when he started writing the novel, but got even more fascinated with it. He loves the way that physics will deal with fundamental questions and asks itself certain questions, and provides concrete answers most of the time, just not all the time.

With that said, he studied journalism. So he’s not even an amateur physicist, only fascinated by it. He understands about as much physics as possible without understanding the math.

He prefers nonfiction because it’s the most fun to discover, so he writes fiction very unwillingly. “When We Cease to Understand the World” was originally written to be nonfiction, and then he looked at it and thought it wasn’t enough since literature demands imagination and meaning.

The book gets more fictional as the story goes on, which came about very organically. Benjamin drafts the stories, and then starts thinking about what the story is truly about. What kinds of other meanings are hidden in there.

Benjamin grew up speaking English. He’s not even written anything in Spanish since he finished “When We Cease to Understand the World”. He wrote “The Night Gardener”, which is the final section of the book, directly in English and wound up translating it into Spanish. So he was very involved with its English translation. He even prefers the English version. People hate him in Chile when he says that, not that he cares.

The success of “When We Cease to Understand the World” has been strange for Benjamin. His other books garnered pretty much no attention at all. He had already made this secret pact with himself that he would be a writer until the day he died, and never worry too much about his readership or success. He had never hear of Obama’s reading list, and doesn’t care all that much about what politicians read. He’d never heard about the New York Times’ “10 Best Books” either. He even had to Google the National Book Award to see its importance. He doesn’t pay any attention to such things.

“La Antarctica empieza aqui” won the Premio Caza de Letras in 2009, which was awarded by UNAM and Alfaguara in Mexico. The collection also won the Santiago Municipal Literature Award in the short story category in 2013. “Un verdor terrible” was nominated for the 2021 International Booker Prize.

“When We Cease to Understand the World” is the first stand alone novel and was released in 2020. A mind-expanding, fast paced literary work about ethics, scientific discovery, and the unsettled distinction between madness and genius.

Albert Einstein opens this letter sent to him from the Eastern Front of World War I. And inside, he finds the first exact solution to the equations of general relativity, and is unaware that it contains this monster which could destroy his whole life’s work.

Alexander Grothendieck, the great mathematician, tunnels so deeply into abstraction that he attempts cutting all ties with the world, horrified of the horror that his discoveries could cause.

Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger battle over the soul of physics after they create two equivalent yet opposed versions of quantum mechanics. Their struggle is going to rip the very fabric of reality, and reveal a world that is stranger than they could ever have imagined.

Using epoch-defining and extraordinary moments from science’s history, Benjamin plunges readers into exhilarating territory between fiction and fact, destruction and progress, madness and genius.

The novel has been translated into 22 languages by publishers from Germany, the United States, China, Italy, Holland, England, and France. In July of 2021, Barack Obama included the novel in his last reading list for the summer. It was chosen for the New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2021” list.

The book, according to Benjamin is a book made up of two stories not trying to be stories, a semi-autobiographical prose piece, an essay (which isn’t chemically pure), and a short novel. It’s a book about the borders of thought and the limits of science, an odd book, that’s neither a short story collection nor a novel, nor is it an essay. Which walks the rather thin line between fiction and fact, and uses science as an excuse to speak about each of these aspects of the human experience that neither equations nor words could possibly tame.

The book is about what happens when you reach the absolute edges of science, and when you come face to face with things you cannot possibly understand. It is about what happens to the human mind when it pushes past those outer limits of thought, and what exactly lies beyond such limits.

Readers found this to be a fascinating blend of fiction and essay, and it is a sweeping and brilliant read. It effortlessly sweeping the reader toward scientific breakthroughs of the early twentieth century. Benjamin takes you on this journey of scientific discovery, from potassium extraction to cyanide, and quantum physics. Benjamin delivers a book that is a very strange piece of fiction which from the first page questions the parameters of reality, and what we actually understand about literature.

There’s a liberation in the vision of fiction’s capabilities which is present here, with sheer cunning that Benjamin augments and embellishes reality, and the profound pathos that he discovers in these men’s stories. However there’s also something questionable and even nightmarish, about this book. If fact and fiction become indistinguishable in any meaningful sort of way, how can we find language for such things we know to be fact?

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