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Tintin in the New World, Frederic Tuten, Morrow.

You remember Tintin. The Belgian comic strip character with the tuft of yellow hair, the baggy clothes and the big, innocent eyes. Along with his crusty pal Captain Haddock and trusty dog Snowy, Tintin roamed the world in search of lost treasure and exotic adventure.

This is the same Tintin who appears as the central character in Frederic Tuten's novel of digressive conversation and mystical liberation. Why Tintin? The question is never satisfactorily answered. He does not seem the inevitable choice for a novel with so little derring-do and danger. This is not a Tintin adventure post-modernized or satirized or even done straight.

Instead, this is a novel of elegant conversation, or more correctly, of elegant monologues. While visiting Machu Picchu in South America, Tintin meets a circle of charming conversationalists who argue and digress and entertain each other with complex reminiscences and political fantasies. Through these conversations--on such topics as Latin American history, socialism and love--Tintin is exposed for the first time to the eternal questions. This exposure gets him to thinking. Losing his virginity to the lovely Clavdia, an older woman with whom he is infatuated, introduces him to yet other new thoughts. These experiences change Tintin from the ageless boy hero who can't grow up into a Man with a Mission. In fact, by novel's end the Belgian comic strip hero becomes a mystical messiah of the indigenous peoples of the New World.

Yes, really.

Perhaps this is meant to be a satire of the recent fuss over the Christopher Columbus celebration. If so, Frederic Tuten is much too subtle for it to work.

What does work, what this novel excels in, is conversation. Endless conversation. Virtually all of the novel's action is recounted by one character or another in digressive ramblings, always charming and amusing.

Ironically, the longest digression is not a conversation but a dream shared by Tintin and Clavdia just after they have made love. This dream covers years of their future relationship together, their respective careers, the children they will have, their retirements, and even their eventual deaths. The dream follows one narrative side-thread out to its distant conclusions before finally turning round, arriving back in the novel's present once more. And more conversation.

If you shrug off the absurdity of a European savior of New World Indians--a European comic strip savior, no less--and concentrate on the sheer joy, sentence by sentence, of the rambling narratives bundled together here, Tintin in the New World can be a lot of fun.

And I suppose Tintin would have wanted it that way.

--Thomas Wiloch