Dr. Ragab’s Universal Language

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Book Review : Dr. Ragab’s Universal Language by Robert Twigger

– Kalyani Gadgil


“We live in the past. We live in the future. I wish (and don’t you?) that we lived more in the present.” These opening lines of book neatly sum up the philosophy of the book.


Robert Twigger, a Somerset Maugham award winner for his book ‘Angry White Pyjamas’, writes about Egypt in his books and polymathics on his blog. In this book he starts off with bunkers. The narrative follows Robert as himself narrating a story about how he finds a journal in a bunker which talks about the fantastic Universal Language that can make you invisible. The journal written by Martin Hertwig keeps the writer hooked as Hertwig goes on to narrate a tale of Nazi Germany, a Jewish love interest and a bunker.


This book comes a full circle. You might not realize that the first lines mean so much until the end (and somewhere in the middle). The book narrates the whole of Hertwig’s journal with the narrator commenting here and there. The contrasting characters of Hertwig and the narrator, the believer and the skeptic, come together under their common association with bunkers. The journal talks about Hertwig going off to Cairo in search of Dr. Ragab and after what he calls extraordinary coincidences he manages to become his disciple. After 12 years he returns to his father’s deathbed and the certainty of war hanging over Europe. He gains a prestigious university position teaching languages of the Orient. But then the situation in Germany disintegrates and Hertwig decides to build a bunker under his father’s lakehouse. A few years later, he meets his beau-to-be, a Jewish girl by the name of Hagar, quits his post at the university and along with his “luminous” Hagar, hides at the lakehouse to await the end of the war. But the real trouble begins after the war. A group of Jews recently released take over the house and lock Hertwig in his own and bunker. The real story begins here as Hertwig tries escape his own bunker, the bunker he knows is 100% escape proof. But the Universal Language might just help him.


This book is part tall tale, part mystery and in every sense completely fabulous, as the blurb suggests and moreover it doesn’t disappoint. The sentences are full of contradictions like “We know too much. We don’t know enough.” A book not set to charm but it charms anyway, with the surrealist Universal Language and the narrator’s own life which changes as he reads the memoir. The metaphorical, big, thick bunker doors which block the narrator from the world are inching open.


This book is for people who think their lives are “wrong, attenuated, thin and one-dimensional”. Charming and unputdownable, this book is for skeptics. You have been warned.

Kalyani Gadgil

Author at reviewsmaniac
Loves reading books and writing thoroughly biased reviews about them. She tries not to write biased reviews about books by reading other reviews about the same books but in the end, writes what she feels like writing. Hope you enjoy them.

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