Monday, March 25, 2013

Best Imaginary Countries in Books

A good mythical country is not a place that doesn’t exist. It’s a place that does exist but you weren’t aware of it, either because you didn’t look at the map carefully, haven’t spent enough time in that particular part of the subarctic Eurasian hinterlands, or simply got confused by the exotic-sounding name. 

1. Costaguana - The setting of Nostromo, Joseph Conrad’s acid 1904 political novel about a revolution-torn, resource-cursed country plagued by the meddling of cynical and idealistic Westerners. Since it combines aspects of Colombia, Peru and most of all Panama (none of which Conrad ever visited, interestingly), its location is thought to be somewhere along the coastline of northern South America. 

2. San Lorenzo - An impoverished, densely populated Caribbean island run by a psychopathic dictator known as Papa. Not Haiti, surprisingly, but the home of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 cold war satire about scientific hubris and the end of the world, Cat’s Cradle

3. Uqbar – You don’t know where it is and you never will, because the men who created it, a benevolent conspiracy of master-scholars in either seventeenth-century London or Lucerne, didn’t want you to. However, you could read “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” the lead story in Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, which tracks down the conspiracy’s origin in the missing pages of a pirated encyclopedia, and soon leads to the discovery of an even larger conspiracy: an invented universe. 

4. Absurdsvanϊ– Before Gary Shteyngart’s 2007 novel, Absurdistan, few Americans outside Washington DC or the Halliburton headquarters in Houston had heard of this post-Soviet mini-republic (the “Norway of the Caspian,” as it was once briefly known) damned by an unfortunate name but potentially redeemed by geostrategic value.

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