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The Art of Flight

The Art of Flight

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By Sergio Pitol
Translated from the Spanish by George Henson

The maestro of Mexican literature published in English for the first time in his masterpiece: a multigenre literary memoir reflecting on a life lived through literature.

Publication Date: March 17, 2015

Paperback: 9781941920060
eBook: 9781941920077


"Pitol is unfathomable; it could almost be said that he is a literature entire of himself." —Daniel Saldaña Paris, author of Among Strange Victims

The debut work in English by Mexico's greatest and most influential living author and winner of the Cervantes Prize ("the Spanish language Nobel"), The Art of Flight takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the world's cultural capitals as Sergio Pitol looks back on his well-traveled life as a legendary author, translator, scholar, and diplomat.

The first work in Pitol's "Trilogy of Memory," The Art of Flight imaginatively blends the genres of fiction and memoir in a Borgesian swirl of contemplation and mystery, expanding our understanding and appreciation of what literature can be and what it can do.

Biographical Note

Sergio Pitol Demeneghi (1933-2018) was one of Mexico’s most influential and well-respected writers, born in the city of Puebla. He studied law and philosophy in Mexico City, and spent many years as a cultural attaché in Mexican embassies and consulates across the globe, including Poland, Hungary, Italy, and China. He is renowned for his intellectual career in both the field of literary creation and translation, with numerous novels, stories, criticisms, and translations to his name. Pitol is an influential contemporary of the most well-known authors of the Latin American “Boom,” and began publishing his works in the 1960s. In recognition of the importance of his entire canon of work, Pitol was awarded the two most important prizes in the Spanish language world: the Juan Rulfo Prize in 1999 (now known as the FIL Literary Award in Romance Languages) and the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious Spanish-language literary prize, often called the “Spanish language Nobel,” in 2005.

George Henson is a literary translator and assistant professor of translation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey. His translations include Cervantes Prize laureate Sergio Pitol’s Trilogy of MemoryThe Heart of the Artichoke by fellow Cervantes recipient Elena Poniatowska, and Luis Jorge Boone’s Cannibal Nights. His translations have appeared variously in The Paris ReviewThe Literary ReviewBOMBThe GuardianAsymptote, and Flash Fiction International. In addition, he is a contributing editor for World Literature Today and the translation editor for its sister publication Latin American Literature Today.


Included in El País's "100 Best Books in the Last 25 Years"
One of Publishers Weekly
's 10 Essential Spanish-Language Books

"Pitol is not just our best living storyteller, he is also the strongest renovator of our literature." —Álvaro Enrigue, author of Sudden Death

"To call The Art of Flight autobiography, essay, or memoir is an understatement. Life, fiction, memories, and readings intertwine in this book with astonishing ease, and the result is a volume that reads like a novel. Rome, Barcelona, Moscow, Prague, Warsaw, and Chiapas are just a few of the territories explored. Sergio Pitol is one of the great Spanish-speaking authors from recent history, mentor and model for many writers from Spain and Latin America. This book is an excellent introduction to the Pitolian universe." Daniel Saldaña Paris, Publishers Weekly

"A book as unique and remarkable as its author." Rosie Clarke, Music & Literature

"One of Mexico’s most culturally complex and composite writers." Publishers Weekly

"Masterful. . . . Known for questioning the limitations of language, Pitol uses The Art of Flight to chronicle his young life. . . . He swirls together memories with poetic reflection, in a way that feels at home in America's memoir culture, but without this obsession with nonfiction." The Dallas Observer

"The Art of Flight is a book bursting with energy and curiosity. It is a collection of observations, set of diaries, travelogue and much more. It defies categorisation and cannot be summarised. Only experienced." On Art & Aesthetics

"Certainly the strangest, most unfathomable and eccentric. . . . His voice reverberates beyond the margins of his books." Valeria Luiselli, author of Faces in the Crowd

"Reading him, one has the impression . . . of being before the greatest Spanish-language writer of our time." Enrique Vila-Matas

"Went to bed reading Sergio Pitol's Art of Flight. . . . So full & rich, I think I'll savor [it]." Maud Newton, via Twitter

"The bountiful work of [Sergio Pitol] is one of the most original in the Spanish language." El País

"If you are one of those who believes the experience must be lived to be true, that Alice and the Cheshire Cat are merely words on a page, that Ahab’s biblical diatribes are just hyperbole from the brow of Melville, and that these in themselves do not count as experience—if you are one who does not believe in the transportive and life-affirming nature of literature, than this book is not for you. That being said, this book is for everyone else." Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore

"[The Journey] and the preceding volume—The Art of Flight—are some of the best to be published by a small press in the last few years." Matt Pincus, Bookslut

"Whilst the reflections on Pitol’s life as a writer are thoroughly enjoyable and, at time, gripping, the book also includes a reading list to die for. His influences are too numerous to mention and there are anecdotes about certain influential writers, his own creative journey being altered by certain works, and in-depth analysis of other books. ...A “novel” that covers politics (free trade, unemployment), artistic creation, critics, sociology, travelogue and so much more." Tony, Messenger Booker

“[The Art of Flight] is the most celebrated of Pitol’s novels. . . . It travels through readings—from Antonio Tabucchi to [William] Faulkner and Thomas Mann—through cities, films, notebooks and recordings, melancholy memories, hypnosis, and dreams.” Letras Libres


In Europe, I held various jobs, and at times I managed to survive without one. I moved frequently from one side of the famous wall whose appearance marked my arrival to the other. The thread that ties these years together, I’ve always known, is literature. All my personal experiences, in the end, have converged. For many years, my experiences traveling, reading, and writing merged into a single experience. The trains, the boats, and the airplanes have allowed me to discover worlds that were either wonderful or sinister, but all of them were surprising. Travel was the experience of the visible world; reading, on the other hand, allowed me to undertake an inner journey whose itinerary was not confined to space but rather let me move freely throughout time. Reading meant accompanying Mr. Bloom to the taverns of Dublin at the beginning of this century, Fabrice del Dongo through post-Napoleonic Italy, Hector and Achilles through the streets of Troy and the military camps that for many years surrounded it. And writing meant the possibility of embarking toward an elusive goal and fusing—thanks to that dark, inscrutable, and much-talked about alchemy one comes closer to the process of creation—the outside world and that subterranean one that inhabits us.