18 June 09 | Chad W. Post

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.


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