James Morrow’s THE ASYLUM OF DR. CALIGARI is a savagely witty riff

A quartet of fresh reviews for James Morrow’s sumptuous and philosophical THE ASYLUM OF DR. CALIGARI.


In a starred review for FOREWORD, Rachel Jagareski praises the novella.

There are obvious contemporary parallels to Caligari’s megalomaniac charlatan character, who seeks control of the global war machine, and some of the same themes are explored here as in the original Caligari film about the blurred line between sanity and insanity and the perils of totalitarian rule.

Morrow loves to play with language—several languages, really. The novel displays a gorgeously expansive vocabulary, double entendres, and a running joke involving the constant correction of Ilona’s meaningful malapropisms.

The writing is often witty and light, but there are also lines of great pithiness and seriousness, as in a description of trench warfare.


This is an erudite, fun book that can be enjoyed on many levels; it succeeds as a satire of geopolitics and warmongering elites, as a comic fantasy, and as a pastiche of the 1920 film that appears on so many fans’ “best of” lists. 

At SAN FRANCISCO BOOK REVIEW, J. Aislynn d’Merricksson enjoys the tale.


This is a satire for the ages, a skillful blending of the history of World War One and the fantastical realm of alchemy and magic. There’s so much going on in this book, philosophy- and spirituality-wise. With Caligari, Francis, and Ilona, you have both Creator and Destroyer in each. The art they create can incite intense emotion, and it’s a lesson that such power should be handled with care. Art, and creativity itself, in any form is a gift and a chance to give beauty back to the world. Abuse of that gift is tragic. Jedermann is a liminal guardian, and a psychopomp, in a quite literal way for Francis, and for countless soldiers in a more figurative fashion.


Madeleine d’Este in her podcast MADELEINE’S SPECULATIVE FICTION REVIEW discusses the book.

THE ASYLUM OF DR. CALIGARI is sumptuous, philosophical, thought provoking, as well as
just good fun.

SPECULICTION likes the satire.

THE ASYLUM OF DR. CALIGARI is laugh out loud funny, even as it tosses about ideas surrounding perhaps our most serious and vile aspects of existence: war and indoctrination to war. The narrative darts and twists, perpetually keeping its tongue in cheek while eviscerating the usage of art to bolster belief in mass conflict.  Thus, from a style perspective, Morrow remains a pure pleasure to read.  The lexical precision, one perfectly placed word after another, can be enjoyed unto itself, even as it dissects the absurdity of war.

For more info on THE ASYLUM OF DR. CALIGARI, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover by Elizabeth Story