“At night Amarâq is coated with a darkness as viscous as unmixed colors, neither the fjord nor the mountains, valleys, lakes, or the river exist, there is only a black mass, a void that spreads across the landscape sporadically, pressing what’s left but leaving holes that it fills with abstract elements, moving pictures, waves of light in a sea of light.
At night Amarâq becomes a broad plain that melts the two dimensions into the third, the earth with the sky—suddenly everything is sky.”
Immediately, Anna Kim’s Anatomy of a Night (translated by Bradley Schmidt) draws us in and confines us to a small, five-hour sliver of life in Amarâq Greenland: an impoverished Inuit village that is plagued by a wave of suicides. Over the course of these pages—through deep personal ties and chilling alienation—the topics of poverty, isolation, and suicide swirl around the inhabitants of the town. Is it the poverty and isolation that drives these folks to take their own lives? Is the strained history between Greenland and Denmark a factor? Or is there something more, something deeper and ingrained in Amarâq?
Anatomy of a Night is broken up into one-hour sections, with each section broken down into smaller vignettes. It is in these snippets that we learn about the villagers and their relationships. We are thrown into this insular society without much of an introduction and only over the course of the novel do we see the relationships between people develop and dissolve, and see the emergence of Amarâq as the real binding element. All of these characters are inherently tied to the village in one way or another through generations or a personal calling. Because of the evolving web of stories across the whole of the novel, identifying a key example of this intricate technique is very difficult1; however, one of the most interesting relationships is between Ole and Magnus, two adolescent boys who resolve to commit tandem suicide:
“They wrap the scarves around the bedposts, tie knots. They sit down on the carpet, close to the post, wrapping one end around each of their throats, and knotting them under their chins. They work synchronously, their movements are coordinated, practiced.”
And farther down the page:
“Magnus sits back down on the floor, scoots over to the bed, takes the scarf, wraps it around the end of the bedpost, and knots it under his chin; light from the street falls on the wall, on the pictures Magnus had cut out of magazines and schoolbooks. He considered them outrageously beautiful photos, until about a year ago, when he stopped collecting them because he could no longer remember why he had started. It’s always the same motif: a sandy beach, the ocean in the background so blue it appeared to merge with the sky, but there was no horizon—the horizon was missing in all of the pictures.”
Even during one of the most intimate moments one person can have with another, there still lingers a sense of loneliness and alienation. Though a little more than halfway through the novel, these passages are like a skeleton key, unlocking a well-guarded secret—or maybe they just deepen the mystery.
At times, especially at the very beginning, the prose is a little difficult to grasp hold of, but what really catches and draws you in is Bradley Schmidt’s masterful rendering of Anna Kim’s text. Schmidt’s deft touch allows the prose to sing with full force; a pleasure to read from the first word to the last. Anna Kim’s gorgeous ebook (YES! Ebooks can be gorgeous), published by the new Berlin based Frisch & Co., is a haunting, thoughtful, beautiful work that sticks with you long after it’s done.
1 Here is a map of characters from Frisch & Co., illustrating this point.
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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