Harald Voetmann’s eye-opening English debut, Awake, is the first book of his erudite and grotesque trilogy about humankind’s inhuman will to conquer nature
In a shuttered bedroom in ancient Italy, the sleepless Pliny the Elder lies in bed obsessively dictating new chapters of his Natural History to his slave Diocles. Wheezing, imperious, and prone to nosebleeds, Pliny doesn’t believe in spending his evenings in repose. No – to be awake is to be alive. There’s no time to waste if he is to classify every element of the natural world in a single work. By day, Pliny the Elder carries out his civic duties and gives the occasional disastrous public reading. But despite his astonishing ambition to catalogue everything from precious metals to the moon, Pliny the Elder still takes pleasure in the common rose. After rushing to an erupting Mount Vesuvius, Pliny perishes in the ash, and his nephew, Pliny the Younger, becomes custodian of his life’s work. But where Pliny the Elder saw starlight, Pliny the Younger only sees fireflies.
In masterfully honed prose, Voetmann brings the formidable Pliny the Elder (and his pompous nephew) to life. Awake is a comic delight about one of history’s great minds and the not-so-great human body it was housed in.