The latest entry in The Guardian‘s series of short stories about the transformations of Eastern Europe post-1989 is Stelian Tanase’s Zgaiba, translated from the Romanian by Jean Harris. (Who runs the Observer Translation Project, which is the best source online for information about Romanian literature.)
So far, this is probably my favorite story in The Guardian series. Like the Clemens Meyer piece, it focuses on a dog:
Zgaiba died Wednesday at 17:26 – his head smashed in. A car travelling at a high speed killed him in the middle of the street. The sound of the blow kept ringing in Vivi’s brain. The driver never stopped. He must have heard a thud under the body of the car, there under the right front wheel. He floored the accelerator, and remoteness swallowed him. Vivi lost track of the car at the end of the street. Tsak tsak tsak: He went on shooting the images reflexively. That was the thing. Horrified. Zgaiba. Images on the sidewalk. The dog didn’t drop right away. He was hurled a metre along the curb. He didn’t bark. He didn’t yelp. He didn’t let out a sound. Time stood still. It took Vivi a moment to come back to his senses. Zgaiba: images on the pavement – his eyes fogged over; his big eyes, stunned. In a state of shock. His tail lowered, his ears pricked. Vivi went on looking at the dog’s coffee-coloured spine there among the iron spears of the fence. Tsak, tsak, tsak. Zgaiba had started heading back to the gate that had let him out earlier. He had crossed the street. He had nearly slipped into the courtyard. He gazed into the familiar place without understanding what hit him. From dying to collapse, the whole scene lasted an instant. Right before Vivi’s eyes.
Vivi had been taking a cigarette break. Between smokes, he went on snapping pictures of Zgaiba, who he’d spotted down in the street. His favourite character. He had hundreds of clichéd snaps of the dog. Vivi himself was up in the attic at the time. He was looking at the cold weather, the cornices across the street. He’d been developing yesterday’s pix for an hour. Failures, without éclat, flops, dumb mistakes: he had spoiled ten rolls of film. Irritated, tired, Vivi had picked up the camera and started taking pictures of Zgaiba bumming around the area – it relaxed him, tsak, tsak, tsak – when the car had appeared. A shiny black body. With headlights on. Evening hadn’t fallen yet. There was a dirty ashen light. Overcast sky. It’ll snow, Vivi had told himself earlier, with his elbows on the sill. The blow to the brain flashed into being – unforeseeably – after that.
Stelian Tanase’s Auntie Varvara’s Clients came out from Spuyten Duyvil press a few years back, which sounds interesting, but is retailing on Amazon for $40? Bit cheaper to check out this special issue of the Observer Translation Project that is dedicated to Tanase and contains an except from the novel Dark Bodies.
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .
Some time ago I read this phrase: “The page is the only place in the universe God left blank for me.”
Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full. . .
“What if even in the afterlife you have to know foreign languages? Since I have already suffered so much trying to speak Danish, make sure to assign me to the Polish zone . . .”
So reads a typical aphoristic “poem”. . .
If you somehow managed to overlook the 2012 translation of Andrés Neuman’s breathtaking Traveler of the Century (and woe betide all whom continue to do so), you now have two exceptional works of fiction from the young Argentine virtuoso demanding. . .