To Walk Alone in the Crowd

Farrar. Jul. 2021. 432p. tr. from Spanish by Guillermo Bleichmar. ISBN 9780374190255. $28. F
The premise is deceptively simple: A walker armed with pencil and pad jots down what he overhears or glimpses in ads, billboards, and newspaper headlines. The first part of the book combines itineraries in Madrid, Paris, and London, whereas the much shorter second part details his stroll up Manhattan from the Bowery to Edgar Allan Poe’s home in the Bronx, ending with a flight back to Spain. This combination memoir, essay, travelogue, and work of fiction results in a collage of ideas and digressive ramblings spun around the theme of perambulation, especially that of five fellow urban wanderers: Poe, Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, Herman Melville, and Thomas De Quincey. Every paragraph is headed by an all-caps boldtype slogan culled from the media, such that the content appears assembled from scraps. For the reader accompanying this walker, each new section reveals something unexpectedly different, akin to what one might find after crossing the street to the next block.
VERDICT Those familiar with Muñoz Molina’s more traditional works (In the Night of Time; Like a Fading Shadow) will be surprised, though not necessarily dissatisfied, with his latest offering. Relative newcomer Bleichmar’s excellent translation adds to the prize, despite the absence of the illustrations from the original.
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