December of 2011 brought me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, but Santa wasn’t the one who delivered it. No, my personal Kris Kringle was author Andrez Bergen, who was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his book Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. I thought the title and cover intriguing, and set about reading. Damn! Not only did TSMG end up being one of my Top Reads of 2011, it is one of my favorite reads ever.
Naturally, I wondered how he could ever possibly top it. Well hold on, ladies and gentlemen, because with One Hundred Years of Vicissitude Bergen is once again taking readers on a wildly enchanting journey down the rabbit hole to an ethereal world rich with Japanese and pop culture, one which seamlessly melds history and the hereafter.
Though not a sequel in the traditional sense, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is built around the character of Wolram E. Deaps, last seen in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. When we last saw him, however, things weren’t going too well for Deaps, so much so in fact that Vicissitude begins with the following observation on his part: “First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man.” He suspects correctly.
Not the nicest man in life, Deaps finds himself wandering aimlessly in a sort of limbo world, endlessly walking but never actually getting anywhere. The landscape which greets him is remarkable only in its absence; no cities or towns, rain or sun, color or sound, only barren trees on the edge of a diminishing horizon. Deaps is on a road to nowhere, surrounded by nothing. Until one day, with no warning and no recollection of getting there, Deaps finds himself outside a cottage. Wondering if the cottage is meant to symbolize the end of his journey, Deaps approaches only to discover his journey is just beginning, as the cottage’s resident, a Geisha named Kohana, has many wondrous things, both beautiful and terrifying, to show him.
Though she initially appears to Deaps as a fifteen-year-old, Kohana informs him that she in fact lived for nearly a century, and is actually a fellow resident of the limbo world. They are Gaki, she explains, “hungry ghosts” whose lot is to suffer for eternity with an insatiable hunger for the things in life they once most coveted. Kohana proceeds to take Deaps on a spectral journey back through the one hundred years of vicissitude which made up not only her life, but that of the country of Japan as well. Jumping back and forth through time Deaps and Kohana revisit the tumultuous events, both large and small, which shaped a life and a nation.
Along the way author Andrez Bergan treats the reader to an enchanting melding of fact and fiction, one which magically weaves together a tapestry of history and pop culture with references to everything from Lewis Carroll and The Wizard of Oz, to the leveling of Asakusa during World War II and the legendary Graf Zeppelin’s only visit to Japan, to James Bond and noir cinema. In this regard, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is absolutely epic in scope and lushly cinematic in its settings. And yet, when boiled down to its essence One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is first and foremost an intimate look at the relationship between Deaps and Kohana.
It’s a strange one, one which initially makes little sense to either the reader or Deaps. There is a method to Bergen’s madness however, and the patience of both Deaps and the reader is richly rewarded with a deeply satisfying journey of self-discovery, one arrived at by traveling through humor and horror, joy and sorrow, enrichment and loss. One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is an achingly poetic reminder that life is about the journey, not the destination, and that with that journey necessarily comes change. Sometimes the change is for the better, other times for the worse, but to be alive is to embrace both, for it is only through the vicissitudes of life that one truly lives.
Andrez Bergen is unquestionably one of the most creative, original authors I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and his ability to take such wildly disparate pieces as those which appear in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and One Hundred Years of Vicissitude and assemble them into a cohesive puzzle is simply awe-inspiring.
– One Hundred Years of Vicissitude by Andrez Bergen –
And be sure to read Andrez’s guest post, “One Hundred Years of Underpinnings.”