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Love Story

February 04, 2001|LAWRENCE WESCHLER | Lawrence Weschler, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is the author of "Calamities of Exile" and "Boggs: A Comedy of Values." "Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology" was published in 1995

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So. Here's the deal. You're going to have to bear with me on this one: There are all sorts of false starts, seeming feints and side-tributaries in the telling of this story but, trust me, by the end it all comes together. Sort of.

So, like I say, I was home, minding my own business, riffling through my latest e-mail, this was about two years ago, when--not so very unusually--I spotted yet another missive from Serbia. Ever since having covered the aftermath of the Balkan wars for The New Yorker, I'd been subjected to a steady if intermittent stream of hate mail bearing the telltale "dot-yu" coda in the sender's e-return address. "You obviously must not be able to get enough of the taste of the blood of Serbian infants with your morning cereal." You know: that sort of thing. Anyway, here was yet another one, emanating from some e.place like rabbit@enet.yu or some such. And for a few days I didn't even bother to open it: Who needs such images rattling around in his head? Anyway, eventually I did open it, and--surprise!--this wasn't that kind of message at all. On the contrary, it was from a fellow named Rasa Sukulovic, who introduced himself as an experienced literary translator (English into Serbian), veteran for example of texts by Salman Rushdie, and what he was inquiring about was whether or not I'd allow him to translate my book on the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, "Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder," into Serbian and then see to its publication in Belgrade. Now, as it happens, that book has received a bunch of translations: A work of magic-realist nonfiction, as it were, it's far and away my most translated book, showing up in Italy, Germany, France and even Japan, usually finding a home in the catalogs of the respective publishers of Borges and Garcia Marquez and Umberto Eco. Japan, of course, was strange (and even stranger the vanloads of Japanese tourists who began pulling up at the doors of the Museum in Culver City)--but Serbia? What on earth were people in Serbia going to make of my odd little text? Still, I figured, what the hell, and by reply missive, I extended my somewhat dubious permission--don't even worry about the royalties.

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So anyway, hold all that in the back of your mind for a moment, as I pick up the narrative somewhere seemingly altogether different--in fact, a couple years earlier.

I happened to be visiting David Wilson's little museum one day. It occurs to me that I ought to say something here about the Museum of Jurassic Technology for the benefit of those who haven't ever read the book, or maybe even for some of those who have, because the place really does exist. Several of the book's reviewers, at the time of its publication in 1995, indicated that they'd thought I was making the whole place up and had even gone so far as to call Information in L.A. to confirm its reality (though why they imagined that, had I been making the place up from scratch, I wouldn't have had the wit to place a listing for my fictional creation with Directory Assistance in L.A., I'll never know). (Which reminds me of the single coolest review the book ever got, which wasn't even published in any journal but instead took the form of this guy who went to visit the museum one day about six months after the book's publication: He spent about two hours puttering around the Jurassic's labyrinthine back halls before reemerging at the front desk, where he hesitantly asked the fellow seated there, "Excuse me, but are you either David Wilson or Lawrence Weschler?" Informed by the sitter in question that he was indeed David Wilson, the visitor leaned in confidentially before triumphantly declaring, sotto voce, "Come on, tell me the truth, does that guy Weschler really exist?")

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