Book Review: Readings

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is the record of an epic adventure on the Autoroute de Sud, cobbled together from fragments composed on the road


Autonauts of the Cosmoroute: A Timeless Voyage From Paris to Marseilles

by Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop, translated by Anne McLean
Archipelago Books, 354 pp. (illustrated), $20 (paper)

On May 23, 1982, Julio Cortázar and his wife, Carol Dunlop, left Paris and entered the Autoroute de Sud alongside countless other cars making the 10-hour drive to Marseilles. Cortázar and Dunlop did not arrive in Marseilles, however, until June 23. In the intervening month, the two explorers lived entirely on the highway. They ate, slept, wrote, and lived in the various rest stations, roadside refuges for weary travelers. They steered their camper van onward deliberately, never doubling back, at a pace of about two rest stations per day.

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is a record of this adventure, cobbled together from fragments, mostly nonfictional, composed along the way. Photographs by Dunlop illustrate the roadside every day through which the two authors moved as interlopers. Most people on the autoroute did not take the time to notice or ask why the authors would attempt such a mission, and the few who did swiftly pronounced them crazy. The authors try to explain: "Somehow, to prove we could carry out this trip was to prove to ourselves that we had weapons against the gloom, not just in its large manifestations ... but also in its more insidious expressions, the banality of daily commitments that mean nothing themselves but altogether distance us from the center where we hope to live our lives. ... Not to live life in its truest way is a crime, not just against oneself, but against others as well."

Often, we cannot tell who is writing – the world-renowned Cortázar or his relatively less accomplished wife. In a few clearly attributable fragments, Cortázar is at the top of his lifelong game of looking for strange beauty in the mechanics of the everyday. Admirers of previous works Hopscotch and Cronopios and Famas will find many passages that alone justify this strange voyage. Dunlop, on the other hand, sometimes seems merely along for the ride, most comfortable writing affectionate notes about her husband. This is not to the book's detriment, however. As the adventure nears its end, we come to understand it more as a love story than an explorer narrative. Out of the impersonal, harried autoroute, Cortázar and Dunlop carved a private, intimate space of shared creation and discovery, making the most of their time together. An epilogue reveals a heartbreaking twist worthy of any novel – Dunlop died just a few months after the voyage was completed, and Cortázar followed her just two years later.

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Julio Cortázar, Carol Dunlop, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute

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