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Finnegans Wake and Journey to Virginland: echoes, intimations, provocations

No one except graduate students of literature or diehard logophiles reads Finnegans Wake. As with James Joyce’s other masterwork, Ulysses, it is akin to an excruciatingly complex scientific theory which can change the very course of humanity yet whose text few mortals would even consider actually reading. We’re thankful for its existence, we recognize James Joyce for the genuine literary revolutionary that he is, but most of us would rather read novels that don’t necessarily require from us a technical struggle.

Enter Journey to Virginland, the debut novel of Armen Melikian, published in 2012. No sooner was the book released that its philosophical voltage, encyclopedic world view, and linguistic leaps drew comparisons to Finnegans Wake. These similarities, however, also mark the point where Melikian’s work and Finnegans Wake part ways. Like Finnegans Wake – and, to a lesser extent, UlyssesJourney to Virginland is replete with dreamscapes, multilingual puns, literary and mythological allusions, and portmanteau words. But Melikian is first and foremost committed to the task of storytelling, at each step mindful of plot lines and character development.

With its metanarrative of a fast-changing global paradigm, as seen through the prism of Dog, Journey to Virginland’s protagonist, Melikian takes cues from James Joyce to build an ambitious literary vehicle for promulgating his unique vision of change in terms of politics, religion, mythology, art, sex, and intergender dynamics. Unlike these novels, Melikian does so by seeking the total complicity and participation of the reader, ultimately making for a page-turner as intellectually engaging as it is relentlessly entertaining, thus echoing Finnegans Wake but also graduating from it to weave an odyssey all its own.

In his review of Journey to Virginland, Paul McCarthy, New York Times bestselling author and a professor of English at the University of Ulster, Ireland, wrote: “I am struck by the extraordinary writing, vision, and, perhaps rarest of all, originality, which abounds in every way, and at so many levels and depths of meaning, theme, narrative, etc., that I had to keep slowing my pace, until I could read and ‘inhale’ each word.”

Looking for a book similar to Finnegans Wake but more accessible? Get your copy of Journey to Virginland today!