The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 27 March 2014

Wonderful, Wonderful Times

Hello Gentle Reader

Elfriede Jelinek’s work is categorized in three different areas, generally seen by themes and areas of obsession. There is the political and socially aware commentary work, the feminist inferno – or a women’s place in society; and then Austria’s inability (or decision not to) digest and deal with their Fascist past, and their neo-fascist present. “Wonderful, Wonderful Times,” follows in the later obsession. It deals with Austria’s Nazi past; a past neither denied nor talked about openly. For Jelinek this is another day at the office. Provocation is her trade. Words and writing are her tools. Jelinek does more than push the envelope; she throws it in the readers face. Critics are divided on her work. Is it extraordinarily bold and avant-garde (?) or: Is it pornography and violence shoveled into an incomprehensible mess, which survives not by literary merit but by shock value (?). There is no middle ground with Jelinek. However as a reader you are certainly going to be pushed from one side to the other, throughout the reading experience. At times one will be amazed at the use of language – and can’t help but feel that the poor translator does not have a chance at truly translating the work, verbatim – because something must certainly be lost. That being said, any translator with the gall to do take on such a project, with the knowledge that they will not be able to offer the entire picture of the artistic creation and ingenuity, is certainly worth admiration. On the other hand, as a reader, one will be shocked and disgusted at the world that Jelinek has come to observe. Jelinek is not an easy writer to get along with as a reader. Her characters are the most degraded creatures; products of a society that demand perfection; results of their gender; they are the outcomes of over demanding parents; and the harvested sewage, of a household that is affected by social standing or lack therefore. Welcome to Jelinek’s world. It’s a world where the trash is hidden in the dumpster; but someone forgot to shut the lid. Here Jelinek dives, and pulls out every piece of dirty laundered, bit of one’s past. Like a magpie with a silver spoon; Jelinek hordes this treasure, and welds it into a book – in which one is forced to confront society that we live in.

In “Wonderful, Wonderful Times,” Jelinek presents a reality, where the soulless putrefying history of war crimes and guilt has been shoveled and swept under the carpet. It’s the photographs and old war medals tucked away in a box or a chest in the attic. In this post-war Austria, that Jelinek presents she shows the soulless and despicable actions of the past, taint the present; warping the dreams of the future. Those dreams in this case happen to be: Rainer, Anna, Sophie and Hans. These characters are nothing more than vessels, that inhabit a world deprived of any sense of mortality; and in such do not have a concept of morality. They live in a cosmic void. As such they have been contaminated, by the past and their ever growing despicable future that appears to await them. They enjoy their time by participating in anti-social behavior; and justify it, each in their own way. Rainer with his poetry and philosophical Nihilism, Anna who only feels hatred and disgust, Sophie a product of money and its apathy, and Hans a desire for more, which leads to an insatiable greed. These protagonists are filled with every bit of refuse the world could offer; and have thrived in it. They’ve devoured their philosophy their poetry, fed off their hatred, aimlessly enjoying the indifference of their fellow human beings, while maintain a gluttonous desire for more.

The novel switches from perspective, and the inner workings of each character. Each one is carefully measured, and precisely shown their deficiencies in morality. There is no redeemable quality. The novel opens with, the quartet, enjoying the pleasure of causing human being harm. They do it without a second thought. They revel in this action. They enjoy the succulent pleasure of having control – the control to cause another person physical harm, without restraint, and to do so because it is perceived wrong. The way Jelinek describes this gruesome event is both poetic, and lucid; a lucidity and intense enjoyment in language that will ring out through the rest of the novel:

“One night at the end of the fifties an assault is committed in the Vienna municipal park. The following persons all grab hold of one solitary man out walking: Rainer Maria Witkowski and his twin sister Anna Witkowski, Sophie Pachhofen (formerly von Pachhofen), and Hans Sepp. Rainer Maria Witkowski was named after Rainer Maria Rilke. All of them are about eighteen, Hans Sepp is a year or so older than the others, though he too is without a trace of maturity. Of the two girls, Anna is the more ferocious, which can be seen in the fact that she pays most attention to the face of the subject. Particular courage is required if you are to scratch a man’s face while he is looking full in your own (though he cannot see much since it is dark) or indeed try to scratch his eyes out. For the eyes are the mirror of the soul and ought to remain unscathed if at all possible. Otherwise people will suppose the soul is done for.”

Once again, as in previous times, Jelinek shows that music – especially classical music, is a place of violence; as Anna, a musically gifted young woman, sees herself, as above her contemporaries at school. They listen to their pop music, and are considered inferior to Anna. Yet like Erika from “The Piano Teacher,” Anna is the most violent of the group – and Jelinek a musical prodigy herself, who was to be the tool of her own mothers, construct to rise above their own class standing, via her musical talents; shows that music is both deprived and full of meaning; but also has a venomous (at best ambivalent) relationship towards it.

Rainer considers himself the leader of this small band of morally compromised youths. With his philosophy and literature, he deems himself the most intelligent and enlightened one of the group. Going so far as to lecture his sister Anna, on the act and art of violence itself:

“Anna does not know that you cannot buy inner worth. The unfortunate drawback with inner worth is that it is hidden away where no one can see it. Anna wants things that are visible on the outside too, but she won’t admit as much. People should not be beaten up for reasons of hatred but for no reason at all, it should be an end in itself, admonishes her brother Rainer. All that counts is beating them up, whether I hate them or not (Anna). You haven’t understood a single thing, Rainer tells her in a superior tone.”

Rainer is a genius in a sense. However he is tainted. Tainted by his father, tainted by which his intellectual pursuits and curiosity grow. As Jelinek once again points out immediately:

“From time to time a genius will flourish in their midst. The soil that nourishes this genius will frequently be filth, and madness will mark the bounds. The genius will want to escape the filth at all costs, but will not always succeed in eluding the madness.”

Rainer does his best to escape. However he cannot deny who he is, or where his upbringing is taking place. However his geocentricism is always apparent. Literature meets Rainer’s demands. Everything meets in some way or another Rainer’s demands. He lives in the realm of art and philosophy. Everything is subject to his will. Anna and Rainer’s father is an ex-SS officer; a man who sadistically enjoyed his time in the war – and is nostalgic for it. Now a crippled, his appetites are, now fulfilled by enforcing his authoritarian role onto his wife and children. He constantly makes his presence known throughout the house; by beating his children and wife – to forcing his poor meek wife, to participate in pornographic photography. Of course dear old Otto, considers himself an artist. Much like Anna considers herself a classical musician and Rainer a enlightened intellectual, and poet who writes nihilistic morbid poetry, or love poetry to his muse Sophie.

Sophie is indifferent and apathetic. She cannot be troubled by the problems of the suffering of others in the world, or the harm she inflicts on others. A Jelinek points out:

“In her own imagination, Sophie is also made of glass, or sparkling china, or best of all high grade steel.”

Sophie is rich. This alone makes allows her to detach from the on goings of others. She is at the attention of both Hans and Rainer. Hans has ambition; ambition to leave his mothers socialist understandings in the past, with his father a victim of history and the war. Hans has no interest in the past’s repercussions on the presents; but rather looks to the future, as a gleaming ambitious prospect. Hans himself wishes to be as rich as Sophie; and Sophie has no understanding of either what it means to be rich or poor; but rather just too aimless exist like a high grade steel figurine – untouched by the world around her, and its greasy paws. This can clearly be seen in the way that Jelinek describes Sophie’s relationships to acts of violence:

“Sophie has to be properly motivated if she’s to commit a crime, or several crimes, because she herself does not believe she needs to make the effort. Nor is it nice to stay up at night perpetrating deeds that shun the light. It takes willpower, since you could just as well be in bed reading a suspenseful thriller.”

Jelinek does well at bringing the interior lives of these characters, to the forefront of this novel. It’s graceful and lucid. However it’s unpleasant, but also grimly funny. The language is poetic, and at times downright vulgar and colloquial. There is plenty to mull over and plenty to shudder at. It’s a book that will one cringe, and contemplate. It is most certainly not for the faint of heart. Jelinek is a socially and politically aware writer; and “Wonderful, Wonderful Times,” showcases this. It’s a thrilling reading, but not an easy one by far. As horrible as the characters are they are riveting in their own morbidly disturbing moral deficient way.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 20 March 2014

The Conspiracy against the Human Race

Hello Gentle Reader

The other day at the grocery, I came across an old friend. As we got to talking, we both admitted to each other, that in regards, to life, we were both surviving. Which is when, in a sarcastic quip that, I had mentioned that it: “beats the alternative.” In Thomas Ligotti’s non-fiction piece of work “The Conspiracy against the Human Race,” Ligotti states that this is just one of many, mantras that people use to hypnotize themselves, in order to fool themselves that life really is alright to live. It should be noted immediately, that like his short stories, Thomas Ligotti’s non-fiction debut, is incredibly pessimistic. What is horrifying with this book is that rather than fiction, in which Ligotti writes about the unknown that causes the dread and the fear; with this book, Ligotti has turned his gaze towards reality. The very reality that sits just outside our front doors. In typical Ligotti fashion, the author pulls back the curtains of daily life, and reveals the existential malaises that have plagued the human mind for centuries.

Thomas Ligotti is considered one of the best kept secrets of genre literature. Ligotti is a horror writer; a genre that is primarily overlooked – and rightfully so, because it often falls into the contrite desire for shock value. Ligotti is also not well known because of his chosen medium to write; short stories. Ligotti’s stories are best judged as “ghost stories.” They never relieve the reader, of their pessimistic grasp. They continually suffocate the reader slowly and slowly; bringing one right down into the abhorrent world, in which Ligotti’s characters inhabit. It’s a bleak world. A world with no visible horizon; grey low skies, and a flat landscape that goes on and on; with no real beginning and no possible outlook for an ending. However what one can look forward to in Ligotti’s world, is wonderful prose, that is well thought out, and well written; as well as an ability to be both entertaining in its own twisted way; but also being philosophical and thought provoking all the same.

One of the interesting aspects of Ligotti’s known influences on his writing is that he goes beyond the usual suspects. Ligotti has named H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe as his influences. However Ligotti has named some rather unsuspecting authors as well as influences on his writing. They would be The Romanian personal pessimistic philosopher Emil Cioran, and the Austrian playwright and novelist Thomas Bernhard. This is what attracted me immediately to Ligotti. He was a different kind of horror writer. He wrote short stories, in order to successfully say: “boo.” However he went around in such a thought provoking manner that, the quality of the writing itself, out does the story. In a genre were bondage clad demons, and exaggerated psychopaths, run rapid; with a thorough description of every gristly detail of how the most unpleasant means of torture are committed. Ligotti is a breath of fresh air. Horror in a sense became (and becomes) a sad joke in on itself. A cartoon satire of itself, juiced up with the steroids necessary to push the extreme over the edge, and make people wonder. The plots and stories become more and more unbelievable. Authors make vampires sexy; werewolves cursed beings, demons as dominatrix’s; witches as tragic martyrs. Before long these concepts lose their originality all together; becoming stereotypes then jokes. However there is hope. Ligotti is that grim hope. Ligotti walks away from the superficial elements of horror: Ophelia ghosts, werewolves, demons, and vampires; instead he focuses on the abstract horrors. These are the horrors that have plagued the human mind for centuries. Since evolution had bestowed upon, the human race of consciousness, there has been a shadow in the far corners of our overdeveloped brain, which continues to cast doubt on our existence. This is the realm in which Ligotti writes about. The shadow that trails each of us every day; and in which every day we come up with a new method of denying its existence:

“Today has been a good day [or a bad day], so tomorrow can only be better,”
“One day down [x amount] to go until the weekend,”
“It’s better than the alternative,”

These mantra’s we recite like a chorus, in a cult psalm. Continually we fend off the aching suspicion of our existential meaninglessness with thoughts, that life is okay – or alright; when in Ligotti’s words and the words of the literary predecessors from Lovecraft to Cioran; and the philosophical thinkers from Schopenhauer to Zapffe; life is not alright. Human existence is a divine joke, and a cosmic mistake.

“The Conspiracy against the Human Race,” is not a pleasant read. It’s harrowing in some regards. It is the rant of an anhedoniac. One can only suspect that if one were to ask Ligotti, his philosophical beliefs; or his personal understanding of the world, his response would be: that he considers himself a realist; but philosophically is understood as pessimist; and in a psychiatric approach is understood as depressive. In other words, Mister Ligotti does not fare well at parties.

In his non-fiction debut, Ligotti performs a literary autopsy on the human conditions inability to understand their awareness of their meaningless existence brought on by being a self-aware and conscious animate creature; but also natures illusion that such a concept of freedom, actually exists. Ligotti showcases human beings as a walking sideshow circus act. All that is missing is that we dismiss this as not true; but as Ligotti points out we are “freaks of chance,” and have simply become puppets who willingly ignore, our strings that are played by fate and nature – and happily close our eyes, to our understanding of the final curtain call. Like a child who has peeked into their Christmas presents to early; we are aware of what awaits us; and in this case, we would rather not know what awaits us. For death is at the end of a long hallway. Every day we inch closer to death and his shadow. In Thomas Ligotti’s words: “EVERYTHING IN EXISTENCE IS MALIGNANTLY USELESS!”

Yet at the same time as Cioran put it:

“It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.”

In these regards there is no free will. It does not matter if we live or if we die. The world keeps on spinning; the sun rises and sets; people go on their daily commute to work; after work, they may hit the gym or go home and make supper. They busy themselves. They fend off the shadow in the back of their head, that something is wrong. This only denies the inevitable and delays ones eventual understanding. This is why people are forever picking up the next craze; that next great big self-help book. That desire that need to affirm to themselves, that they are alright with living. That is why people have slowly become champions of the so called “small victories,” of life. These are the people who find a piece of left over cake at the office, or get a good parking space at the mall – the hold on to these events and tell themselves that they make life okay. These people in Ligotti’s dissertation are fooling themselves. They avoid the fundamental truth. Life is not alright. In fact as a species we are an evolutionary fluke; and in a direct way of speaking: a conscious fuck up. In these regards the masses the general populous must flock to something, some attraction to some new age guru, to some mystical messiah or a book – or anything that denies these inconvenient understandings. From glass showcase of glittering shit, to the next glittering display of some bright new attraction; anything that keeps us occupied from the truth in the back of our minds. Why else would we run to some meeting room, to be screamed at, to think more positively, by some mystical teacher who suffers from some optimistic psychotic breakdown? Why else would we force ourselves to sit down on some metal fold out chair, and scream that we understand? Perhaps that is why some don’t do so well at parties.

Thomas Ligotti’s non-fiction debut is something not for the faint hearted. This is a classic pessimist at work; not the kind of pessimist who says: “I am going to go on vacation and get hit by a hurricane.” This is the pessimist who looks at the fundamental question that people have been asking themselves, since they had the ability annunciate and pronounce words and actually understand each other: what is life worth? Ligotti won’t be the last to see the fundamental error in our conception and creation; and certainly won’t be the last to point out one of the most horrifying facts: we are not individuals. We are simply biological machines that are drive by physical and chemical process. In short we are more concerned with reproduction and survival. These are hardwired instincts, into our minds. The concept of individuality as we like to believe do not exist; and is the greatest blow to our perceived idea of what it means to be human – it is the only aspect of our grandiose persona that separates us from cats and dogs. In the end it’s a book that will give any reader a lot to think about and gives you plenty to digest. Don’t expect to be told how to life your life, or what small victories to count. You might as well toss those conceived ideas out the window.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 13 March 2014

The Best Translated Book Award & The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Hello Gentle Reader

With the announcement of The Best Translated Book Award & The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, there’s a look into translated works, that may have slipped under ones radar. There are only so many results that can be produced from, browsing publisher pages, reading blogs and stalking forums. This is where awards, have their purposes. It allows for one to see some of the books that may have just passed unnoticed, and have been taken into consideration by others.

After reviewing the Longlist for the Best Translated Book Award, I can see that I only got two guesses right for those that would make it on the Longlist. Those two being last year’s winner László Krasznahorka, from Hungary and Romanian author, Mircea Cărtărescu. In all it’s a good longlist. My only disappointment is seeing Mo Yan on the list. But That’s a long complicated story, and one in which I have no time or appreciation for the author; and have abstained from ever reading any of the authors books, on some high horse principle.

Here are the Longlisted authors and their works for the Best Translated Book Award, in no particular order.

“Her Not All Her,” Elfriede Jelinek (Austria)
“My Struggle: Book Tow,” Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norway)
“Sleet,” Stig Dagerman (Sweden)
“Blinding,” Mircea Cărtărescu (Romania)
“Horses of God,” Mahi Binebine (Morocco)
“Autobiography of a Corpse,” Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (Ukrainian/Russian)
“The Infatuations,” Javiar Marías (Spain)
“The Whispering Muse,” Sjon (Iceland)
“The Forbidden Kingdom,” Jan Jacob Slauerhoff (Netherlands)
“The Devils Worship,” Jáchym Topol (Czech Republic)
“Red Grass,” Boris Vian (French)
“City of Angels, or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud,” Christa Wolf (German)
“The African Shore,” Rodrigo Rey Rosa
“Through the Night,” Stig Sæterbakken (Norway)
“Leg over Leg Vol 1,” Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (Lebanon)
“Commentary,” Marcelle Sauvageot (France)
“A True Novel,” Minae Mizumura (Japan)
“In the Night of Time,” Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain)
“The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra,” Pedro Mairal (Argentina)
“Seiobo There Below,” László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)
“The Story of a New Name,” Elena Ferrante (Italy)
“Tirza,” Arnon Grunberg (Netherlands)
“Textile,” Orly Castel-Bloom (Israel)
“The End of Love,” Marcos Giralt Torrente (Spain)
“Sandalwood Death,” by Mo Yan (China)

The following is the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for this year:

“The Iraqi Christ,” Hassan Blasim (Iraq)
“Revenge,” Yoko Ogawa (Japan)
“Ten,” Andrej Longo (Italy)
“My Struggle: Book Tow,” Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norway)
• Listed as: “A Man in Love,”
“Brief Loves that Live Forever,” Andreï Makine (France)
“The Mussel Feast,” Birgit Vanderbeke (Germany)
“Butterflies in November,” Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir (Iceland)
“The Sorrows of Angels,” Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Iceland)
“The Infatuations,” Javiar Marías (Spain)
“The Corpse Washer,” Sinan Antoon (Iraq)
“Exposure,” Sayed Kashua (Israel)
“A Meal in Winter,” Hubert Mingarelli (France)
“Back to Back,” Julia Franck (Germany)
“Strange Weather in Tokyo,” Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)
“The Dark Road,” Ma Jian

Both prizes appear to have picked out a good number of books. With some expectations. After reviewing the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the one book that struck me as a bit airy and willy nilly, was “Strange Weather in Tokyo,” in its Murakami-esque in its off put romance. In all though both lists are compiled interestingly enough; and there is not a lot of overlap, so it allows for different talents and authors to showcase their own works, and their talents.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Friday 7 March 2014

Best Translated Book Award -- Countries represented and Statistics

Hello Gentle Reader

I have immense respect for the “Best Translated Book Award.” It is a prize that represents the unrepresented in English language countries – the translated book; and awards the authors and their translators for a book well done. The blog associated with the “Best Translated Book Award,” and “Open Letter Books,”: “Three Percent Review,” has released, statistical data, in regards, to the languages, and countries that have been represented up until this point – as the Longlist will be announced shortly. The list of the data, is compelling, and offers an interesting perspective of what languages are translated the most.

France is at the top of the list with a total of 54 nominations. Following France is Germany with a total of 40 books nominated. After which comes Italy with 27. Followed by Sweden with a total of 24. Spain follows closely with 23. Russia comes behind with a total of 19.

These notations are large, and grand in their literary traditions. This explains their high percentages of nominations; and their capabilities of doing so.

It is sad to see some nations with lower percentages:

Greece with 2
Latvia: 1
Lithuania: 2
Romania: 3 (Mircea Cărtărescu a possibility)
Slovenia: 1
Portugal: 2
Poland: 6
South Africa: 1 (“The Expedition to the Baobab Tree,” by Wilma Stockenstrom)
Croatia: 1
Czech Republic: 3
Netherlands: 7 (Gerbrand Bakker)
Finland: 4
Switzerland: 6
Albania: 1
Bulgaria: 3
India: 1
Hungary: 3 (Laszlo Krasznahorakai anyone?)

It is however interesting to see some nations with higher percentages. South Korea for example has 12 nominated. Turkey 11. Argentina 13 (Cesar Aira a major possibility).

Then it is interesting to see some nations that one would not expect. Congo has one – and its better to be represented then not. Togo 1. Mozambique 1 (though Mia Couto is a high contender). Saudia Arabia with 2. Lebanon has 4. Indonesia has 4. Azerbaijan: 1 (I’d like to know what book that is). Haiti has 1. Oman with 1. Belarus with 1.This why the “Best Translated Book Award,” is fascinating; it is because it is a global exchange of literature. A broadening if you will; of the world though representation via literature. Though its disappointing to see such small numbers with some countries, there is continual hope, that the trend shows significant positive gain. I cannot wait personally for the Longlist to be announced.

To review the entire list of countries, represented and their percentages of books:

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 6 March 2014


Hello Gentle Reader

A fado is often defined as a song, characterised by mournful lyrics and sombre tunes. It is often compared with the Portuguese word saudade, which is a form of longing for someone, or a place that may or may not have even existed. As mentioned time and time again, Antonio Tabucchi was often influenced by this special Portuguese notion of wistful loneliness; about the damage of an irreplaceable loss, and its continual consequences, that reverberate throughout an individual’s life. The fado is much different then, the Spanish romantic’s and fiery passion. There is no woman in a red dress, sword in hand, standing on the head of a bull. No sensual barbaric, whispers and movements of love. The fado is timeless; in that it does not spark ones intensity for romantic passion, or make one desire to dance the dance of domination, and sensuality. It’s a quieter tempo. It pulls the heart strings. It laments a lost childhood. It speaks of the one we admired; and who never knew it. It sings of the poor. If one were to compare a fado to any other form of song, it would be chanson réaliste; and that comparison can only be made in the most superficial of contexts. Andrzej Stasiuk’s book of essays – generally composed of travels and journeys; takes the Portuguese song as its title. Stasiuk’s “Fado,” is melancholic, but also ironic and humorous. However, there is a great passage in which, Stasiuk describes, the melancholy of Portugal, brought on by a song; while visiting Albania.

“The melancholy of the music [fado] and the melancholy of the town intermingled, and the image became permanently imprinted in my memory – low grey buildings, the chaotic bustle of the street, a cloudless sky, pale blue mist over the waters of the lake, and the low voice of the singer imbued with mournfulness. At the time I thought to myself that Portugal is in a sense similar to Albania. Both lie at the edge of a landmass, at the edge of the continent, at the end of the world. Both countries lead somewhat unreal lives beyond the main flow of history and events. Portugal can at least dream of past glory, and like Albania can long for a fulfillment to be brought by some undefined future.”

Andrzej Stasiuk is one of Poland’s contemporary greats. Poland is a master culture and country when it comes, to literature. It has produced some of the finest writers the world has, had the pleasure of reading. Those include:WisławaSzymborska, to CzesławMiłosz, to Adam Zagajewski, up to some of the great post-communist writers, like Tulli, Tokarczuk, and Pilch. All of whom Stasiuk can call his fellow countrymen; and contemporary co-workers. Stasiuk is known more so for his, essays – generally about his travels. With “Fado,” Stasiuk writes of the Other Europe; that no longer exists physically – as Europe is now finally a whole continent once again. This “Other Europe,” now only exists, in the ignorant minds of the west, which dream and imagine a strange land beyond their own borders. This is the land that Stasiuk calls home. Yet because this “Other Europe,” exists in the lack of information or knowledge or perhaps lack of interest in what lies outside our own doors or even windows, and gardens – Stasiuk quotes his friend Yuri Andrukhovych as the reason, as to the capital brilliance of this ignorance.

“he [a writer] can tell the most outrageous stories about his country and his part of the continent, he can spin the most fantastical tales, present them as God's honest truth, and then simply rest on his laurels, since his stories will never be subject to verification -- partly because his audience suspects that in his part of the world anything at all can really happen, but also partly because, for this audience, the very existence of that region is highly problematic and already resembles a literary fiction.”

Andrzej Stasiuk has lived in the Carpathian Mountains for some two decades or more. It’s the back bone of Europe; as the Danube is the artery that connects the west of Europe to its eastern counterpart. Stasiuk reflects on the state of change – and in some cases the inability of change. Stasiuk is not a man of the future. The future is shapeless, grey and has the potential of always changing. To bet or to predict the future is, to try and win a losing gamble. Instead Stasiuk echoes the struggles of Eastern Europe and its struggle with their western cousins. However he also dreams of what we all dream of when we think of Eastern Europe. One of which is its confused and ambivalent relationship with its more recent past. A past that includes being ruled by dictators, and a stifling party system, that was to reflect the future. It was to be the shining red star and the beacon of hope for all workers. In the end its meant its own bleak future, like the Eastern Europe of Stasiuk’s dreams.

“I dream of crumbling watchtowers amid bleak scenery, and cyclists wheeling their rusty bikes across a hilly country between towns whose names can be pronounced in at least three different languages; I dream of horse-drawn carts, and of people, and food, and hybrid landscapes and all the rest.”

When traveling in Romania – a country the author has a continual fascination with, because of its continual fairy-tale quality and ambiguity even with its own past and present. As Stasiuk explains:

“That’s Romania: gilded plafonds and mouldings and a broke toilet. Romania is a land of marvels. I’ve been there maybe a dozen times and I still haven’t had enough. Romania is a fairy-tale. Past, present, and future coexist there, and decay walks arm in arm with growth. The new is very on the way, but the old survives, equally well.”

Such passages lead to, pick up a plane and back pack the country. And not just Romania; but also Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary – but also the not mentioned countries, like Estonia and Latvia. In Stasiuk’s prose, this world of contradictions and pretend lands of surreal decay and growth becomes very vivid and welcoming. One has the itch to go see these off beaten tracks. Discover the worlds, which one thought could only exist in the Brother Grimm’s fairy-tales. It’s a place of devote older woman, on their journey’s to early morning mass. It’s a land of electrical failures, because northern Albania is barbaric and savage; and a place rumoured where demons reside. It is not visited with pleasure; but rather left for dreams of prosperity.

Stasiuk also mentions a generational gap of an understanding of life. The youth of Eastern Europe, long to escape it. They have dreams, and desires. None of which can be achieved in a land of decay and cemeteries. They wish to flee their steeple spiked landscapes; run from the inefficient plumbing; and the devoted old woman dressed in black and mumbling prayers while holding their rosaries as talismans to escape eternal damnation. These young people are dressed in brightly – almost obscenely; coloured clothes. The fabric is decorated with slogans, with incomprehensible words, that escape understanding. Yet they are worn with pride – even though their message – if there is one, is completely missed.

“Fado,” is a book of ruminations. Stasiuk’s interests lies in the forgotten parts of Europe. It is a place of rust, decay, growth and history that is forgotten, and yet lived through every day. The past echoes in the everyday. People walk down streets, in which armies and soldiers had marched. People from Hungary, Slovakia and Romania reside in the homes, of the Germans who had since abandoned their ancestral homes in the Banat. It’s a complicated history. One in which the country’s borders have changed, and continue to be argued over. As Stasiuk points out though their existence is not known about, from the rest of the world.

“Existence for its own sake has long stopped having any meaning.”

Still the collection of essays, and travels, proves to be an interesting road map through Central and Eastern Europe. Stasiuk himself has stated that he has no interest in Western Europe. Stasiuk said the following, in an interview inregards to his introspective interest in his native land:

“I haven't been to France or Spain and I’ve never thought about going there. I am simply interested in our part of the world, this central and eastern reality. My God, what would I be doing in France . . .”

The collection would appear to be more, stronger if it had been organized as if Stasiuk had traveled through the different countries and their unsung villages and customs, if they were organized by country. However in that place, Stasiuk has created a collection of essays of reminisces, impressions, and thoughts that are incredibly personal, and allows for the author to think and ponder over the land, and how it has shaped his own characters, from his life in the Carpathian Mountains, and how it refuses to belong to just one country; and the experience of living within and around the mountains, connects the author to other locals from other countries, as they live in the shadow of the mountain range. This is an interesting look into the forgotten other Europe. Central and Eastern Europe continues to strive for a brighter future, and overcome the turbulent past it has endured.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary