This month brings us a set of novels in translation from some of the giants of international literature: László Krasznahorkai, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Ananda Devi. These reviews by Asymptote team members will give you a taste of an exiled baron’s return to his home town, a meditation on fascism and gender relations, and the decline of an older woman living in a London divided by race and class.
Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet, New Directions, 2019
Review by Jacob Silkstone, Assistant Managing Editor
“With this novel,” László Krasznahorkai told Adam Thirwell in their conversation for the Paris Review, “I can prove that I really wrote just one book in my life . . . When you read it, you’ll understand. Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming must be the last.”
Ottilie Mulzet’s English translation of Báró Wenckheim hazatér has, understandably, been one of this year’s most keenly-anticipated books. It opens with a “Warning,” a labyrinthine eight-page sentence ending with a sigh of weariness that merits quoting at some length:
I don’t like at all what we are about to bring together here now, I confess, because I’m the one who is supervising everything here, I am the one—not creating anything—but who is simply present before every sound, because I am the one who, by the truth of God, is simply waiting for all of this to be over.
Our showcase this week is a short story by Raquel Rivas Rojas, a writer who masterfully stretches the limits of language to catalogue what is left of life in the aftermath of an atrocity.
“Inventory for After the War” by Raquel Rivas Rojas
For Gina Saraceni
To fight against death in the open air, in the midst of the ruins of a war that has just ended or that continues somewhere else.
The noises of the far-off war that advances or that retreats.
The animals that surround us. Birds of prey, wild dogs, rats, winged insects. Caymans in the rivers. Venomous snakes under the stones and the sticks.
Rags. Old cloths are used on top of one another. The oldest cloths disintegrate and fall apart by themselves, into pieces. The loose strips are lifted at times in the breeze.
The smell of burning. Always and everything smells of burning. Until it rains. Then it smells of soaked ashes and running blood.
The earth roads. Dusty or muddy. Walking on them is always torture. They don’t seem to lead anywhere. And yet, sometimes, a ruin is crossed by on the way.
Bare feet. Nobody has shoes any more. There are some thick rags left that are tied with other rags. And then, always and without fail, bare feet.
The absence of desire beside the surprising and sudden shock of desire.
Hunger. Guts filled with air. The air that circulates round the empty guts producing an uprooted pain. A pain that starts in the gums and ends in the anus. A pain that is prolonged outside as you urinate three drops and expel droppings as hard as stone.