Horcynus Orca 2022: Epic Group Read at The Untranslated Book Club

When I took a vacation in July 2019, I knew I was not going to travel anywhere. I wanted to use the free time to accomplish what I had been simultaneously longing and dreading to do for more than a decade­–to read Stefano D’Arrigo’s Horcynus Orca from cover to cover. I realised that it was now or never. I couldn’t be avoiding this book, which I had bought used in 2008 from a Danish antiques dealer and which had been staring at me reproachfully from its shelf ever since. In addition, it was the time when I firmly decided to shut down my blog, and posting my review of this enormous and challenging work as the last offer from The Untranslated seemed to me the best way to leave with a bang rather than a whimper. I spent from 8 to 10 hours every day for the whole length of my vacation reading, analysing, parsing and deciphering Horcynus Orca. With this book, partly written in an artificial language made up of Italianised Sicilian and an array of neologisms, plain reading was not sufficient for a decent review. I looked up stuff online as well as consulted a brick-and-mortar library. As I was trudging through the text, making notes and compiling my own glossary, I realised with time that my efforts began to pay off and I actually started to enjoy the book because I had taught myself how to read it. Finishing Horcynus Orca proved to be a sublime experience despite the initial hardships, which seemed oftentimes insurmountable. It took me one more month to go through all the secondary literature I had been acquiring all those years in preparation for the perpetually postponed reading only to find out that I did not need most of it to write my review. The secondary sources were primarily helpful for learning about the publishing history of the novel. After posting the review, I bid good-bye to my readers and stopped blogging.


BB290DEA-E673-451E-9F0E-10B79684D698As you know, I returned after a year of silence mostly thanks to the backing of my Patreon supporters. Until recently, my only perk for the Patrons was an early access to my reviews. But in September, I added a new tier: The Untranslated Book Club. The idea is simple: I help my subscribers to read a challenging novel in the original by supplying them with weekly instalments of the reading guide and by hosting a monthly Discord meeting. Now that I have a two-month experience of running the Club, I can say with regret that it is not sustainable in long term. The amount of time and effort required for producing the reading guide infringes on my other commitments and saps way more energy than I had foreseen. That is why I am almost sure that there will be just one reading cycle for the Club, with four books in French, Italian, German, and Spanish. By the end of December, we are going to finish the three-month reading of Pierre Jourde’s Le maréchal absolu. On January 3, 2022, we will start reading Horcynus Orca. Considering the girth of the book, I have decided to stretch the reading over 4 months, so that the readers will not be overwhelmed by the weekly workload. We will finish the book in April, and in May the four-month read of Michael Lentz’s Schattenfroh will follow. After that, we will read the final book of this project whose title will be revealed later. It will be a Spanish-language novel. And then, The Untranslated Book Club will be officially closed. This is to say that participating in the Club may be your only chance of ever reading Horcynus Orca. I am going to convert my personal glossary and all my notes into a reading guide that will help you to navigate this whale of a book even if your level of Italian is no higher than intermediate. Moreover, you may even be a native speaker, but reading this novel unassisted is possibly just too much of a chore for you, and that is where the reading guide might make a difference for you. Our monthly discussion is also a good way to clarify some of the things you may have found puzzling upon the first reading. If you make up your mind, join The Untranslated Book Club tier on my Patreon from January 2 to January 3, 2022. If you join earlier, you will be charged again at the beginning of the month. It is possible to join later, but then you will have to do some catching up. I do not recommend being late for more than two weeks.

Just like The Divine Comedy, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Don Quixote, Moby-Dick, Ulysses, and Gravity’s Rainbow, Stefano D’Arrigo’s novel is a milestone of world literature destined for immortality: it will continue to be read and re-read, discussed, argued about, incessantly analysed, taught at universities, loved and hated, and engaged in many other ways for as long as we continue being a reading civilisation. And if you have some Italian, it is up to you if you want to join this dialogue. I will be there to help you.

Update: Now that I have been working on the first instalment of the Reader’s Guide to Horcynus Orca for over a week, I have to confess that I was overly optimistic about the weekly reading goals for this project. To do seventy pages a week (for a four-month reading period) will be overkill both for me and for most of the participants. I expect the glossary alone to run for hundreds of pages, and there is no way I will be able to do the required amount of work in time. It is also unlikely that the intermediate readers of Italian will be able to plough through so much extremely dense text even with a glossary. To mitigate the situation, I have decided to extend the reading period for two more months. So, it is going to be a six-month read with a forty-page reading chunk per week. This seems doable to me. Our group read will start, as announced, on January 3, but we will finish on June 26. Let’s have a whale of a time with this whale of a book!

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6 Responses to Horcynus Orca 2022: Epic Group Read at The Untranslated Book Club

  1. Gerardo Spicci says:

    Dunno if you usually take recommendations but I was recently blown away by Dolores Prato’s Giù la piazza non c’è nessuno. Though probably not nearly as ambitious or exuberant as some of the stuff you covered in the past, I hope it will be up your alley. Would love to see your take. Keep up the great work.
    Apologies for the off-topic comment.

  2. incognito says:

    Just curious: do you make such vocabulary notebooks for all of your books? Because I see that you have around 20 per page. That’s a lot. Personally, I love reading challenging books on paper but in this case I would use my iPad with a pop-up dictionary in the Kindle app.

    • Some 15 years ago I used to do that for almost all foreign-language books I read. I don’t do that anymore except for special books like this one. The thing is that for many difficult words in this novel a pop-up dictionary would be useless. Some of those words cannot be found even by googling.

  3. Anon says:

    I’ve recently started reading the Ulysses and I’m devoting all myself on it.
    But I’m now taking a break of a few weeks due my university exam session (it’s really tough :S). When it will be over I’ll resume my reading and finish Joyce’s novel.
    Then I’ll immediately start to read Horcynus Orca and hopefully catch you midway!

    My best wishes for everything!

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