The Days of the King is a slim volume of dense and full worlds and sentences. The basic plot concerns the dentist Joseph Strauss of Berlin who is called to relocate to Bucharest in order to serve as dentist to captain of dragoons Karl of Hohenzollern who is about to become the prince of the United Principalities of Europe. But the most remarkable thing about this novel is author Filip Florian’s churning prose that moves along at a rapid clip through his use of listless yet list-like sentences that amazingly find no shortage of commas to join their innumerable clauses. Take this single sentence for example, as the dentist Strauss talks to his cat Siegfried on the train to Romania:
Herr Strauss, who in the middle of the previous winter, in January on the eighth day of the month, had turned thirty, was saying all kinds of things, he was not telling a story, he was no longer chirring away meaninglessly, he was merely saying that he wanted to get out of a rut, that there was a whole host of titties in the world, in any case many more than eleven, that everything was numbingly monotonous, that beer and schnapps were good, but wine is not to be sniffed at, that every town is full to bursting with stripy, spotted, black and white, gray, yellow, plump or lean, squint-eyed, and lame cats, cats of every shape and size, that a fire that robs you of mother and sister goes on roasting your heart forever, it dries you and smokes you like pastrami, that there comes an hour, all of a sudden, when nothing binds you to anyone anymore, that beyond an empire, three mountain ranges, and boundless plains it is possible to be born again, that to be dentist to a king is not the same as draining the pus from the mouth of a captain of dragoons, that a wife means children, that a new country is a new place, and a new place is a new opportunity, that games of whist can be played anywhere at all, that the present looks like a lump of shit and that the future might, with the mercy of God, look better, that a wife means a mother, that a young tomcat has seed enough to fill the earth with kittens, that beyond an empire, three mountain ranges, and a boundless plain there might not be a heaven, but nor can it be hell, that geese saved Rome, that the land where they are headed is called Romania and that there will likely be plenty of goose liver there to fry with slices of apple, black pepper, and onion, that a wife is a sister, that no road is without return, and that a wife means a woman, not just any woman, but one who comes out of an angel’s or a devil’s egg.
The very next sentence is “And so on and so forth” as if there could possibly be anything more to talk about to your cat.
But Florian’s sentences are analogous with the way his novel twists and turns through its various moods and subjects. Foremost, the amount of history in this book is astonishing, with seemingly all the political machinations concerning Romania of the late nineteenth century packed into dense passages throughout the book. For those, like me, who may be slightly less than enthused to encounter so much political background in the course of their reading, Florian’s rapid-fire prose is both a help and a hindrance as it moves the reader quickly through these sections, but can make it easy to get lost amid all the commas. (There is a helpful guide to Romanian political and religious history in the back of the book.) But set against these passages Florian also includes the poetic writings of Siegfried the cat, who passionately inscribes his missives into the backs of upholstered armchairs with his claws:
From that huge belly, my love, know thou, fifteen kittens will emerge, her belly has swollen to the size of a barrel or a sack of lentils. I awake before down and I wait, I keep watch, the miracle might happen at any time, from beneath the quilt there wafts soft breathing, sleep will not be denied, the kittens lie curled up they stir and they grow, yet another night vanishes without them emerging, yet another day arrives on tiptoes, I divine it, soon the coffee will be boiling in the pot, the dogs will be barking outside, [. . .]
All of this—the thoughts of Joseph Strauss as he heads to a new life in Romania, the political climate with which the former captain of dragoons and now Prince must face, and even the mystery of human birth to a cat—all presented in Florian’s rambling prose, conveys an overwhelming confrontation with information, that distressing phenomenon that comes about with the dislocation which begins this story, that is forced upon the dentist, the king, and the cat. What seem like intensive history lessons may bore at times, but they also arouse sympathy for the prince. It is true that Florian demands an obliging and enduring reader, but he has created a book that contains the worlds of thought for those readers who are willing to confront them.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
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