In Search of New Babylon

Translated by Donald W. Wilson
By Dominique Scali

In Search of New Babylon
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In this atmospheric, post–Cormac McCarthy western novel, four disparate characters criss-cross the desert in pursuit of an impossible ideal. Along the way, these wily characters captivate and intrigue as they seek the American dream in a lawless town in the 1860s.

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Overview

In this atmospheric, post–Cormac McCarthy western novel, four disparate characters criss-cross the desert in pursuit of an impossible ideal. Along the way, these wily characters captivate and intrigue as they seek the American dream in a lawless town in the 1860s.

Reverend Aaron is found lying unconscious on the dusty trail to a family farm somewhere in southern Utah. His hands have been severed at the wrists. On the body are only a few Bibles and sermons. Is he a preacher or a thief?

It’s impossible to say who this stranger might be without understanding those who have brought him to this desert town: Charles Teasdale, a saloon pugilist who hangs himself despite having escaped the noose nine times; Pearl Guthrie, a young saloon girl who marries the same man thirty times over; Russian Bill, an aristocrat turned rustler after killing a hundred innocent men; and an assortment of mercenaries who live on the fringe of mining towns in the American Southwest, where anything and everything is available, except what you are looking for.

All the main characters in this novel are invented, except one. All the towns are real, except for New Babylon. But if such a place were to be imagined, it would be a Wild West town where gunfights are fair play
and the law bans only the lawman. It is a perilous place, where the beauty of the desert landscape takes your breath away with the same power as an open blade and a gash to the throat.

Awards

  • Prix des libraires du Québec 2015, Short-listed
  • Finalist, Governor General’s Literary Award (2015) 2015, Short-listed
  • Winner, First Novel Award in Chambéry 2015, Winner
  • Grand Prix du livre de Montréal 2015, Short-listed

Reviews

On the terrain the novel builds for itself, it comes off masterfully, in sharp, terse prose and compelling movement. For a work so concerned with repetition, it remains marvelously paced …”—Full Stop

“This book will knock all the goddamn polish off your teeth. ”
—Ross Ufberg (on Twitter)

“Readers who have enjoyed Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers or Guy Vanderhaeghe’s Frontier Trilogy will enjoy Scali’s haunting, McCarthyesque foray into the West and her creative engagement with memorable tropes. ”
Canadian Literature

“Beautifully and compellingly written, these characters frequently transcend their fictional nineteenth-century context with pertinent insights about humanity’s seemingly insatiable desire for spectacle. ”
Canadian Literature

“[An] exceptional piece of historical fiction … In Search of New Babylon could easily have been written originally in English; the wry humour, stark prose, and rolling cadence are superbly captured. … In Search of New Babylon is incredibly fun and impossible to put down. Scali has successfully taken a piece of American history and woven it into a wholly unique Quebec Western, one that truly reflects Scali’s own relationship with and interpretation of the genre. From this perspective, Wilson’s translation can be seen as an act of retranslation; by rendering the novel in English, he has relocated the story and, in a sense, returned it to its origins. ”
Québec Reads

“The story is tightly woven and executed with masterful shifts in chronology and narrative focus. The characters are quirky and compelling. The language of W. Donald Wilson’s translation sings with rich detail. Short, staccato-like chapters propel the story forward with the pacing of good television. This is in no way meant as an insult – seamless storytelling is difficult to achieve, and Scali accomplishes that with virtuosity in this novel. ”
Montreal Review of Books

“Unlike classic western writers such as Louis L’Amour or the contemporary Cormac McCarthy, Scali departs from the traditional style of depicting humanity bringing order to a lawless land. Instead, she positions the people who flocked to the frontier as speculators out to exploit any natural resources or vulnerable people they could find. However, while her characters are morally flawed, they are mostly sympathetic, sometimes even likeable. ”
Winnipeg Free Press

"[An] exceptional piece of historical fiction … In Search of New Babylon could easily have been written originally in English. " —Québec Reads

“Scali’s In Search of New Babylon gives us a vast swath of America during the mid-nineteenth century – ‘right in the middle of hell. ’ … The novel succeeds as a Western. It has a vast number of the cues, reshuffled perhaps, but with enough rugged individualism, or maybe just anti-collectivism of any and all sorts, and a gruffness to clearly operate within the genre. … On the terrain the novel builds for itself, it comes off masterfully, in sharp, terse prose and compelling movement. For a work so concerned with repetition, it remains marvelously paced …”
Full Stop

“Like Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman’s Boy, Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, or Sean Johnston’s Listen All You Bullets, Scali continues the trend of contemporary Canadian Westerns with [her] own foray into the Wild West of the American frontier after the Civil War. … descriptions are accompanied by sparse, wry dialogue and jumps in time that slowly reveal the ultimate fates of the characters … Scali has written a new type of Western that … keeps you enthralled with characters whose true selves always seem just out of reach to the reader. In Search of New Babylon is an entertaining and well-crafted read for Western and CanLit fans alike. ”—Prairie Fire

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