The Organs of Sense

Farrar. May 2019. 240p. ISBN 9780374227371. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374719968. F
[DEBUT] Early in Sachs’s debut novel, a blind astronomer says to a visitor after one of his frequent digressions, “This probably sounds obscure but what I mean will become perfectly clear.” This statement holds true for readers as well. Things can be perplexing at first, but once you realize what Sachs is up to, a certain rhythm and theme becomes explicit. Narrated by philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the story ostensibly shows how the astronomer ended up alone on a remote mountaintop, stargazing despite his lack of eyesight. But getting to that final moment is filled with delightful tales of palace intrigue, sibling rivalry, and extensive forays into empirical thought and logic. Deep philosophy is applied to nearly everything that pops up, including the eating of soup. Yet despite these heavy themes, Sachs applies a liberal does of clever humor throughout; nearly everyone is a charlatan in what might be the most lighthearted work about the history of science ever published. Meanwhile, hopping on the Internet while reading, you can learn about glockenspiels, the union of Auhausen, and the concept of “horror vacui.”
VERDICT Great fun and notable for its singular style, playful tone, and sense of economy (Sachs covers a huge amount of ground in just over 200 pages), this impressive debut is for fans of George Saunders and Vladimir Nabokov. [See Prepub Alert, 11/12/18.]

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