domingo, março 27, 2016

Silence In a World Full of Sound: "Pferde Stehlen" by Per Petterson

Published 2006.

“Eigentlich wollte ich nur noch schlafen. Ich achte sehr auf die Stunden, die ich zum Schlafen brauche, es sind nicht mehr so viele, aber ich brauche sie ganz anders als früher. Eine Nacht ohne ausreichend Schlaf wirft noch tagelang Schlagschatten, macht mich reizbar und bremst meinen Schwung. Dazu fehlt mir die Zeit. Ich muss mich konzentrieren. Dennoch setzte ich mich wieder auf, schwang die Beine aus dem Bett, stellte die Fusse auf den Boden und suchte im Dunkeln nach meinen Kleidern, die über dem Rücken eines Sprossenstuhls hingen. Ich hielt die Luft an, als ich merkte, wie kalt sie waren. Dann lief ich durch die Küche in den Gang, zog die alte Seemannsjacke über, nahm die Taschenlampe vom Brett an der Wand und ging hinaus auf die Treppe. Es war stockdunkel. Ich machte die Tür noch einmal auf und schaltete die Aussenbeleuchtung an. Das half. Die rote Wand des Gerätschuppens warf einen warmen Wiederschein auf den Hof.” (Page 13)

My loose translation:

(All I wanted was to sleep. I have focused my attention on the hours I get, and although they are not many, I need them in a completely different way than before. A night without enough sleep throws dark shadows for many days ahead and makes me crabby and slows my drive. I have no time for that. I need to concentrate. Nevertheless, I sat up in bed again, swung my legs in the pitch black to the floor and found my clothes over the back of the post chair. I gasped when I felt how cold they were. Then I went through the kitchen and into the hall and pulled on my old nautical jacket, took the torch from the shelf and went out onto the steps. It was pitch black. I opened the door again, and switched on the outside light. That helped. The red-painted utility shed wall threw a warm glow across the yard.)

By chance I got this novel in a German translation from the Norwegian. I’m not sure I’d have felt the same had I read this in the English translation. When I read in German I always seem to have a deeper appreciation for the work at hand. On top of that, reading a novel as layered as this one in German ups the ante as far as I’m concerned. Back in the day, I thought literature was untranslatable.  Before I could read German, I found this thought comforting because I was completely unable to appreciate German literature, particularly the literature of the postwar period, namely Celan.  I thought I should just learn German and read these works in the original and then my problem with German literature would evaporate of its own accord. When I finish reading a book like this, I always think the original lives in another realm. Perhaps. I know that reading this in German made me think about it in a different way. I’ve written often about a work’s translatability, and I don’t mean whether a perfect copy of a text can exist in a foreign language, but whether its translation can itself be a work of literature.  Besides, it would be insufficient if I were to say that Petterson’s novel is translatable.  Rather, I have the feeling that the original text in Norwegian is peering into German.

“Mein ganzes Leben lang habe ich mich danach gesehnt, allein an einem Ort wie diesem zu sein. Auch in schönsten Zeiten, und die waren nicht selten. Soviel kann ich sagen. Dass sie nicht selten waren. Ich hatte Glück. Doch auch dann, zum Beispiel, inmitten einer Umarmung, wenn mir jemand Worte ins Ohr flüsterte, die ich gerne hörte, konnte ich mich plötzlich weit weg sehnen an einem Ort, an dem es einfach nur still war. Es konnten Jahre vergehen, ohne dass ich daran dachte, aber das heisst nicht, dass ich mich nicht danach sehnte. Und jetzt bin ich hier, und es ist fast genau so, wie es mir vorgestellt habe.” (Page 11)

My loose translation:

(All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of a hug and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might pass and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.)

Silence. In a world full of sound, “silence” is something some of us crave for, or maybe we just want to be alone with our own thoughts. Trond’s much like the beautiful lake outside his cabin, i.e., it possesses a still surface, but there is something going on underneath all that ice. Maybe that’s why Trond's first­-person narration is so sparse at times and at other times so verbose and laden with rich language. This apparent inconsistency is maybe because Trond withdraws from the world around him creating silence, but his thoughts allow him to live as if he's conversing and interacting with people. If you think this is easy to achieve fiction-wise, maybe you’re not reading enough. I can assure you it’s anything but easy. Petterson just makes it seem easy.

I confess. I’m not able to write about this novel. It’s so textured that it’s neigh on impossible to do it justice. “Pferde stehlen” is a novel of memories, and within memories time tends to be flexible, and blurry at times. That’s how I felt when I tried to write this review. I cannot put into words what I wanted to say. Maybe it needs to gel a bit first. That’s always the mark of something worth reading.

I don't know whether there's an English edition. If there is, do yourself a favour. Read it!

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