Ilan Stavans's vast and subtle knowledge deftly emerges in this engrossing collection of essays. Fascinated by the idea of Western civilization as a sequence of innumerable misinterpretations and misrepresentations, a magisterial Tower of Babel where everybody communicates at once in a different tongue, these nineteen pieces cover a broad range of personal and philosophical topics with the unifying theme being the crossroads where politics and the imagination meet. An essay on linguistics and culture discusses the shaping of Latin America's collective identity as a result of a translation loss. Peru's modern history is approached as a bloody battle between enlightenment and darkness, as personified by the archetypal clash between novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and the leader of Shining Path, Abimael Guzman. In his critiques of Octavio Paz and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Stavans reflects on the dichotomy between pen and sword in the Hispanic world and wonders why we are so mesmerized by magic realism, a literary style that poses as unsettling while remaining thoroughly conventional at heart. In "Letter to a German Friend," Stavans returns to his fate as a Jew in the Southern Hemisphere, and in "The First Book," he connects his passion for literature to his initiation into Jewishness. Finally, in the brilliant meditation on Columbus's afterlife, he reflects on the many ways in which we reinvent ourselves in order to make sense of the chaotic world that surrounds us.