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Journey to Virginland: a groundbreaking American novel blazes a new trail, with intimations of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot

The central themes of Samuel Beckett’s iconic Waiting for Godot find powerful resonance in Journey to Virginland, a newly published novel of ideas by American author Armen Melikian. Dog, Melikian’s antihero and a modern-day Diogenes, is a singular character in the history of literature, even though it evinces a dramatic concordance with Beckett’s dog, Lucky. While Waiting for Godot and Journey to Virginland are dissimilar in style, tone, and narrative context, they both register an intellectual and spiritual jolt in that they astutely capture the spirit of their time as they advance a fierce critique of the modern status quo.

Waiting for Godot (1952) is widely considered one of the greatest English-language plays of the 20th century and a seminal work in the Theater of the Absurd. In Beckett's inimitably deadpan and minimalist style, the play encapsulates the sense of alienation, ennui, and collapse of absolute values and identities emblematic of the postwar human condition.

Journey to Virginland gradually draws the reader into a maelstrom of experiences of the absurd, ultimately suggesting that the absurd as such is a non-event. It is a state of mind that manifests within a larger relativistic universe, and the existentialist fixation on the absurd as an absolute human condition incapacitating the possibility of meaning — thus ushering in the death of philosophy — is nothing but sophistry.

Melikian gives the topics broached — and alluded to — in Waiting for Godot a much broader context, framing his novel in terms of a global paradigm marked by geopolitical and economic imperialism, unfettered social inequity, corporate malfeasance, and the imperious ambitions of organized religion. Melikian demonstrates that these historic patterns increasingly breed cynicism and despair among the marginalized and disenfranchised, making way for either the existential void of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or types of fanaticism which reinforce retrogression among absolutist systems and institutions, most glaringly under the guise of “tradition.”

“In a sense, the deadpan humor and no-holds-barred critical ferocity of Journey to Virginland's protagonist on the one hand, and the absurd, seemingly nonsensical goings-on (and lack thereof) of Waiting for Godot on the other share a single source, the profound pain associated with the alienation and loneliness of modern man,” Melikian said. “Yet whereas Waiting for Godot implies a fundamental futility in all human action, the quest for meaning in particular, Journey to Virginland aspires doggedly and unapologetically for a transcendent vision of change, which is expounded as being as accessible and feasible a possibility as the will for change itself.”

Publishers Weekly encapsulates the gist of Journey to Virginland with the following remark: "Dog vs. God. In an iconoclastic story, Dog demolishes the foundations of Western civilization." Paul McCarthy, New York Times bestselling author and a professor of literature at the University of Ulster, Ireland, whose career has comprised key posts at some of the largest publishing houses in the world, writes of Melikian’s work: “In the best sense, I’m reminded of George Orwell’s classics, and other authors of similar stature, though there is no true parallel possible with a novel as unique in concept and execution as Journey to Virginland.

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot shares another aspect with Journey to Virginland in that it contains several canine references and allusions. Journey to Virginland tells the story of Dog, a picaresque antihero endowed with near-encyclopedic knowledge and attitude to spare, who tries to make sense of the 21st-century state of affairs through kaleidoscopic commentaries on history, culture, sex, gender politics, mythology and lore, and religion.

“Time… is not a linear sequence, but an endlessly reiterated moment, the content of which is only one eternal event: death,” writes Eugene Webb in his review of Waiting for Godot. Journey to Virginland systematically builds on this definition of time, yet entrances its reader with an ecstatic alternative for human transformation, standing in life-affirming contradistinction to the stylized bleakness of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Interested in learning more about Journey to Virginland? Click here to read an excerpt.

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