The Fortress by the Sea, from Gog, by Giovanni Papini

New Parthenon, October 6
For the last few years the state of the World has been growing more and more alarming and dangerous, and I have thought best to prepare an impregnable refuge for myself. Wars, invasions, and rebellions are sure to continue for some time yet, and no one is safe. Let all who realize this, and who do not wish to be starved or butchered, take early precautions.

On the northern coast of -Brazil and not far from the mouth of the Parnahyba I discovered a small peninsula that exactly suited my purpose, and the work of fortifying it and making it habitable is already well advanced. It is connected with the mainland by a sort of isthmus, where I have laid three rows of mines; thus in case of danger in less than three minutes my peninsula could become an island.

On the highest point I have built a castle faced externally with stone and lined with steel plates, those of roof and terraces being especially thick. At a certain distance, hidden among the trees, are two buildings for the servants. The castle has a deeply excavated underground apartment divided into several chambers, where one could live quite comfortably in case of emergency. There are also spacious cellars for storing provisions and ammunition.

I have installed several plants to render me absolutely independent of the rest of mankind–water cisterns, electric and refrigerating plants, a wireless station, and a vast bin that is already full of coal. The castle is equipped with a library of nearly twenty thousand volumes, comprising the masterpieces of all literaLures, the best encyclopaedias, and manuals of every branch of science. There are also three orthophonic gramophones with thousands of disks, and a gallery containing reproductions in color of the masterpieces of all times and countries. On the highest terrace I have placed a telescope with a twenty-six-inch lens, which will be useful when I am suffering from insomnia. The terrace is also equipped with several anti-aircraft guns in case an inquisitive airplane should seek to pry into my affairs. Fortunately my peninsula has a natural harbor, where I shall always keep two motorboats, a yacht, and two whaling-boats when I am at the castle. I really believe I have not overlooked anything.

As soon as any undesirable changes or alarming demonstrations take place in the country where I happen to be living, I can rush off at once to my fortified hermitage, where I shall find everything necessary for comfort, and there await the end of the crisis in perfect safety. The place is well chosen, for I am near the Gulf of Mexico and in my yacht can cross to New Orleans in a few days. Fortunately there are no towns in my neighborhood, but the hinterland is fertile and could supply many articles that might become necessary during a long period of isolation. I should take some thirty persons with me, among them a doctor, a librarian, an engineer, three capable mechanics, and two athletes. I have already purchased a hundred rifles and six machine guns, and I have ordered twenty battery guns. Thanks to the conformation of the peninsula, it would be quite easy to defend it against an attack from the

A ship laden with all sorts of tinned and preserved foods is already on its way there from Brazil, and I intend to build a stable to hold about a hundred head of cattle. Thus equipped I should be able to hold out for at least a year Without receiving any supplies from outside. Thanks to the precautions I have taken, I need not fear solitude. Time passes quickly when one has books, music, and astronomy.

I am surprised that the great lords of the earth, men as rich or even richer than I, have never thought of preparing similar places of refuge against the misfortunes and upheavals of war and revolution. Man’s shortsightedness is appalling and passes belief. No one foresees, no one provides against, disasters that–if we consider the madness that has invaded mankind–must be regarded as not only possible but actually imminent. The example of Russia has failed to open the eyes even of those great plutocrats who are most in danger of being shot or despoiled. I alone perhaps, in the whole world, have thought of preparing a buen retiro for stormy times-—a bueno retiro partaking of the nature of the feudal castle, the fortified convent, and the pirates’ cave, but which will prove far more useful than those sumptuous villas the wealthy have erected in the open country within reach of every one, as if for the very purpose of arousing the envy of the poor and, by providing the opportunity, of awakening that instinct to plunder which is common to us all.

My peninsular refuge will also serve me in times of peace. Every now and then I am seized with the longing to get away not only from the city but even from thickly populated country places. At such times I shall be able to become an anchorite, a hermit, surrounded by all the comforts of civilization. And to my way of thinking, there can be nothing more delightful than to be able to isolate oneself from one’s own odious kind, to feel in every way independent of them, in a well—defended retreat where they can neither molest nor offend.

Gog, by Giovanni Papini

Giovanni Papini’s 1931 satire, Gog, rates its own Wikipedia and is easily available in Italian, Spanish, French and German, but in English, it’s been out of print since its first publication. Barely noticed, what few reviews the English translation did get were negative. The American Mercury dismissed it for its “somewhat sophomoric and trashy cleverness.” Yet readers in other languages still praise the book, along with its sequel, Il libro nero (The Black Book, never translated into English, for its anarchic humor.

gogWith a short introduction, Papini places Gog as a packet of papers presented to him by Goggins, an eccentric American millionaire he encountered at a private insane asylum while visiting an acquaintance. Papini hesitates to call them “a book of memoirs nor, still less, a work of art,” but merely ” a peculiar and symptomatic document, perhaps startling but possessing a certain value for the study of mankind.”

Son of a member of the Hawaiian nobility and a white father, Gog signed on as a cook’s assistant on an American ship at the age of sixteen, and through a series of business deals, managed to become one of the richest men in America by the end of World War One. At that point, he decided to retire completely from business and devote himself to “enjoyment and journeys of discovery.” The rest of Gog collects about 90 entries, most under three pages long, from his subsequent years of travel and encounters with a wide variety of geniuses and idealists.

libroneroThese include some of the great names of the time–Freud, Edison, Einstein, Henry Ford, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Lenin–with whom Gog gains audiences and records their thoughts. Papini later caught some flack for this device, as when ,i>Life magazine–among others–mistakenly quoted an interview with Pablo Picasso from Il libro nero as if it were the real thing. In the case of the interview with Lenin, it very well could have been the real thing–in hindsight: “It is my ambition to convert Russia into a vast penitentiary…. [W]e should then be able to murder all the peasants as being of no further use. They will either have to turn into laborers or perish.”

The lesser-known men Gog encounters each harbors a unique mania. One proclaims that he has devised the perfect form of sculpture–carving smoke into shapes that dissolve as soon as they are created. Another asks him to endow a chair in phthiriology–the study of lice. He discovers the shop of Ben-Chusai in Amsterdam, devoted exclusively to products made from humans–shrunken heads, “cigar holders made from finger bones, incisors set in gold or platinum, penholders and necklaces of carved vertebrae.” His meeting with the architect Sulkas Perkunas foreshadows Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: the City of Perfect Equality; the Polychromatic City; the Hanging City; the Titanic City; and, yes, the Invisible City. Cocardasse the poet declares he will revolutionize poetry by incorporating all the world’s vocabulary:

Beloved carinha, mein Weltschmerz
Egorge mon âme en estas soledades.
My tired heart, Raju presvétlyj
Muore di gioia, tel un démon au ciel.
Lieber Himmel, castillo de los Dioses
Quaris quot durerà this fun désespéré?
Λαμαδα Φηιξ, drevo zizni….

Liubanoff, on the other hand, gives Gog a book of poems consisting of nothing but titles: “‘The Siesta of the Forsaken Nightingale.’ It contains all the elements of poetic efflorescence.”

There is an understandable amount of humor to be found in taking a notion to its extreme, but the series of encounters with monomaniacs soon grows, well, monotonous. Every person in the book is a figure of ridicule and the end of the book leaves one no wiser than the start. At one point Gog notes, in fact, that there is “nothing more delightful than to be able to isolate oneself from one’s own odious kind.”

If one accepts experimental fiction as a legitimate form, Gog is more successful as experiment than fiction.

At the moment, there appears to be just one copy of Gog available online, but there are dozens available through public and university libraries, according to

Gog, by Giovanni Papini, translated by Mary Prichard Agnetti
New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1931