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February 03, 1991|Charles Solomon

A SONG OF TRUTH AND SEMBLANCE by Cees Nooteboom (Penguin: $6.95). This brief novel by the noted Dutch writer blends fiction with a sly discussion of the writer's craft. As an anonymous author converses with a colleague, he becomes distracted by a vision of an elaborate pair of gold epaulets. The mysterious epaulets are joined by a stethoscope, and gradually a story emerges about a colonel and a doctor during the Bulgarian struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. But Nooteboom uses the writer's struggle to free the story from the matrix of his imagination as a vehicle for his pointed observations on the Dutch literary establishment and how academic debates on the nature of writing can burden an author with excessive intellectual baggage. The result is an striking diptych of a storyteller and a story told.

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