“The Manuscript Found in Saragossa collects intertwining stories, all of them set in whole or in part in Spain, with a large and colorful cast of Gypsies, thieves, inquisitors, a cabbalist, a geometer, the cabbalist’s beautiful sister, two Moorish princesses (Emina and Zubeida) and others that the brave, perhaps foolhardy, Walloon Guard Alphonse van Worden meets, imagines or reads about in the Sierra Morena mountains of 18th-century Spain while en route to Madrid. Recounted to the narrator over the course of sixty-six days, the novel’s stories quickly overshadow van Worden’s frame story. The bulk of the stories revolve around the Gypsy chief Avadoro, whose story becomes a frame story itself. Eventually the narrative focus moves again toward van Worden’s frame story and a conspiracy involving an underground — or perhaps entirely hallucinated — Muslim society, revealing the connections and correspondences between the hundred or so stories told over the novel’s sixty-six days.
The stories cover a wide range of genres and subjects, including the gothic, the picaresque, the erotic, the historical, the moral and the philosophic; and as a whole, the novel reflects Potocki’s far-ranging interests, especially his deep fascination with secret societies, the supernatural and “Oriental” cultures. The novel’s stories-within-stories sometimes reach several levels of depth, and characters and themes — a few prominent themes being honor, disguise, metamorphosis and conspiracy — recur and change shape throughout. Because of its rich and varied interlocking structure, the novel echoes favorable comparison to many celebrated literary antecedents such as the ancient BCE Jatakas and Panchatantra as well as the medieval Arabian Nights and Decameron.”
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