Daniel Quinn's new book After Dachau is, on almost every level, a conundrum. Which is not surprising considering that Quinn, author of the bestselling novels Ishmael, The Story of B and My Ishmael, fashions novels with a near-Socratic technique. Posing questions that have no easy answers, he delves into the mysteries most compelling to his own heart while simultaneously entertaining masses of readers.
The irony of After Dachau is that while Quinn finds it to be the most patently mainstream of all his books, he had it published by a relatively unknown publisher (Context Books) with no paid advance. In addition to that highly unusual move, After Dachau, with its elegant, elegiac cover design, has a more literary look than any of his previous novels. And finally, inside the book, instead of the sagacious gorilla protagonist of Ishmael, the author introduces a world where history has been rewritten. It's 2000 years after Hitler won the war, A.D. no longer means "Anno Domini" but "After Dachau," and only the incoherent memories of a reincarnated woman offer any clues to how it might have been radically different.
"I find that the world is very sharply divided into two camps when it comes to my work," says Quinn, who will be reading from After Dachau this Saturday at Auntie's. "There are the people who are very much into my work, who are very puzzled when their friends don't react to the books the way they do. And then there are the ones who were put off by Ishmael because they were afraid that they were going to be preached at. A gorilla teacher who tells us where and how we went wrong? No thanks. And I can understand that, I can understand it very well. I'm hoping to reach all the readers who wouldn't normally read a book like Ishmael but would read this because it's more like a traditional novel."
Although Ishmael was published nearly a decade ago, it still sells remarkably well, no doubt due to its ability to articulate the fears of a generation and suggest the possibility for making big changes -- before it's too late. The novel, which successfully incorporates philosophy, ecology, spirituality, history and good old-fashioned storytelling, is so popular that it's been incorporated into high school and college curriculums all over the United States -- one college campus has even erected a bronze statue of Ishmael.
"It never occurred to me that it would be used in any classroom, there's never been a book like it," says Quinn. "Ishmael has been read in biology classes, in archaeology, anthropology, history, geography, economics, physics. It's amazing to me how many disciplines have found a way to use it."
Considering the success Quinn had enjoyed with Bantam, the publisher of Ishmael, The Story of B and My Ishmael, it would seem that finding a publisher for After Dachau would be a done deal. Context Books publisher Beau Friedlander contacted Quinn last year about a cover blurb to go on -- ironically -- A Language Older Than Words by former Spokanite Derrick Jensen, and the random contact inspired Quinn to try a new publisher.
"Like many other authors who have become accustomed to dealing with conglomerates, I find that you get used to there being a lot of money up front," he says. "But when the book comes out, you're just another can of peas on the shelf. They know some of those cans of peas are going to be snapped up, some are going to sit there awhile. The people who buy the book may be crazy about it, but to the publisher, unfortunately it's just another piece of merchandise."
Quinn's background seems ideally suited to the kind of books he writes now -- books that fully take into account the cynical and material age in which we find ourselves without losing sight of the idealistic consciousness that could save our shortsighted species. The 65-year-old visionary Texan, who now runs a Web site called "New Tribal Ventures," was once a Trappist monk and a publishing executive.
"I wasn't a monk very long," he explains. "But going into publishing is what opened my eyes to what it was possible to do. I learned that anything I wanted to write, I could find a way to get it published."
Although After Dachau differs from Quinn's earlier works in both style and narrative, thematically, they are all part of a greater body of work. Like Ishmael, After Dachau gets into the terrible repercussions of human greed and denial.
"I had been mulling over what I wanted to accomplish in this book for 10 years. I wanted to do this thing, but I didn't know how to do it," Quinn muses. "The notion of reincarnation is the device that allowed me to do this. Have you ever read any C.S. Lewis? He was writing with something on his mind, something he wanted to say, and he used science fiction as the device for Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Like science fiction worked for him, reincarnation, and the idea of reinventing history, worked for me."
However he gets the message across, the important thing is that people are listening.
"I literally get at least a letter a day from someone in their teens or early 20s," says Quinn. "Young people today are looking at a very dark future, and they're often knocked out when they read my books. This is the generation that, if they're looking at any of the science, I think they know that there is a real possibility of all this crashing down within their lifetime. Which ironically gives me some hope, because they see it and perhaps they will be the ones to make the drastic changes that need to be made."
& & & lt;i & Daniel Quinn reads from After Dachau at Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main, on Saturday, March 10, at 7:30 pm. Call: 838-0206. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &