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

Readings

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Michael Agresta
Obamacare After the Mandate
Obamacare After the Mandate
Making the most of ACA enrollment for 2019

Nov. 2, 2018

Charlene deGuzman Tackles Sex and Love Addiction in SXSW Film <i>Unlovable</i>
Charlene deGuzman Tackles Sex and Love Addiction in SXSW Film Unlovable
Love is sickness, not the cure in this anti-rom-com

March 9, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Julio Cortázar, Carol Dunlop, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle