Werner Herzog’s Fever Dreams

“The Twilight World” is a surprising late-career turn for Herzog, who is known for art-house classics like “Fitzcarraldo” and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” and searching, existential documentaries like “Grizzly Man,” “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and “Into the Inferno.” But Herzog thinks of himself primarily as a writer — he has written poetry and kept journals throughout his career — and has long maintained that his writing, not his films, will be his legacy. With “The Twilight World,” Herzog feels he has finally found his medium.

“It’s odd, but I can explain it easily in a sort of dictum: My films are my voyage, and my writing is home,” he said.

“The Twilight World,” which was translated from German by Michael Hofmann, unfolds over 132 pages. Most of the narrative takes place in the claustrophobic, delirious confines of the jungle, an environment Herzog is intimately familiar with and evokes with eerie precision.

“I function well there,” he said. “It’s a place of fever dreams.”

As he does with his documentaries, which he often narrates, Hezog inserts himself in the story as a guide. The novel begins with his account of meeting Onoda, then jumps back in time to the island, where Onoda was held captive by his own self-delusion. Even when Herzog recedes into the background, adopting the voice of an omniscient narrator, the prose is unmistakably Herzogian: “Onoda’s war is formed from the union of an imaginary nothing and a dream, but Onoda’s war, sired by nothing, is nevertheless overwhelming, an event extorted from eternity.”

“His is just one of the great inimitable voices in any form,” said William Heyward, who acquired the novel and Herzog’s forthcoming memoir, tentatively titled “Every Man for Himself, and God Against All,” for Penguin.

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