Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life, translated by Charlotte Collins

This novel is set in a remote Austrian mountain valley. Andreas Egger, the pr9780374289867otagonist, arrives here as a boy of four. A farmer adopts him and treats him cruelly. Egger, nevertheless, builds a life, marries, goes to war, returns, watches the world change around him as he becomes a stalwart of his valley and earns his living by leading groups of tourists through the mountains. I’m reading this novel as a meditation about stewardship of the land, an exercise of imagination about how to live lightly. It takes a certain set of experiences, good and bad luck, to get there. Here’s a sign that Egger paints to advertise his business:

IF YOU LIKE THE MOUNTAINS I’M YOUR MAN.
I (with practically a lifetime’s experiences in and of Nature) offer:
Hiking with or without baggage
Excursions (half or full day)
Climbing trips
Walks in the mountains (for senior citizens, disabled people and children)
Guided tours in all seasons (weather permitting)
Guaranteed sunrise for early birds
Guaranteed sunset (in the valley only, as too dangerous on the mountain)
No danger to life and limb!
(PRICE IS NEGOTIABLE, BUT NOT EXPENSIVE)

I’m working on a full-length review of a novel by an author from Iceland, Oddný Eir, “Land of Love and Ruins,” translated by Philip Roughton, and I find in it, what I think is a similar idea, expressed in the following terms:

It’s good to replace the idea of “love of one’s native land” with “love of one’s foster land,” to clarify your relationship to the country you tied your umbilical cord to. . . . I think that care for the foster mother is inseparable from care for all its sons and daughters, whether they’re related by blood or not. . . . perhaps we can come up with a new way to connect with nature and justice. Come up with a new collective form, a new form of shared responsibility.  . . .  I’m thinking about loyalty. Isn’t loyalty to the fosterland different than loyalty to the fatherland? I’m not thinking about loyalty for loyalty’s sake, like that claimed by sweaty, self-assertive SS hot dogs. . . . Loyalty to the fosterland can’t be separated from connections to the totality of all things.

Eir develops her thoughts on this idea of fosterland at length and through very interesting history. I find it all very appealing. Unfortunately her language, rendered by Roughton, does get a little muddled. Seethaler’s words, rendered by Charlotte Collins, read like poetry. Here it is, again, that line: “I (with practically a lifetime’s experiences in and of Nature) offer: Hiking with or without baggage.”

I want to put a smiley face at the end of that sentence.

An extended excerpt from Seethaler’s novel is available on the publisher’s website.

You can buy the book here.

Two Lines: Fall Issue

Two Lines Press has come out with a new anthology of world writing in translation, their Fall 2016 Issue. My favorite piece in this book is the first, “Sea Swell” by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. This is how it opens,

I had a friend once. Indeed, at the time, I only had one friend. His name was Andrés and he lived in Paris and, much to his delight, I traveled to that city to see him. The very evening of my arrival, he introduced me to Marguerite Duras, who was a friend of his. Unfortunately, that evening, I had taken two or three amphetamines.

The voice is humorously self-depreciating, yet confident in telling an important story.  The line notes tell me that Vila-Matas specializes in “stories and novels that plays with the interrelation between fiction and reality,” so I’m reading this as roman à clef. Whether or not the author has actually ever met Marguerite Duras really doesn’t matter as much as the question whether this piece is a stand-alone story or a part of a larger narrative. The ending, though not abrupt, leaves me wanting a lot more.

An accompanying story appears on the Press’s website, “Vampire in Love.”  I haven’t yet had a chance to read it, and I’m a little put off by the title, but I hope to get to it soon.

In the printed anthology, another piece that stood out to me, is “Eni Furtado Has Never Stopped Running” by Alicia Kozameh, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger. A woman has come to the cemetery to clean her father’s remains. The narrator gives us nearly every bone of this man’s body, together with the smell and, ehrm, taste. Contemporary literature seems, at times, peaked on finding limit experiences, taboos to break, and this piece is that. I’m not sure whether I liked it because or in spite of this.