30 September 2019

Thankful for translations: On 'Drive your plow over the bones of the dead'

Tokarczuk, Olga. Drive your plow over the bones of the dead. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Riverhead Books, 2018.

My relationship with books — even now that I've embraced digital technology — has always been physical. Paper texture, typography, width and weight, marginalia. Walking library aisles, visiting bookshops taking my sweet time looking at each spine until I find the tome that makes my heart skip a beat.

The hunts and hauls have recently diminished as my personal library is filled with enough paperback to last years of reading. And I've grown to be practical and decisive. Nowadays, when I enter a bookshop, I know exactly which title I would want to leave with.

Not on my last trip, though. With the titles I was seeking unavailable, I combed the shelves hoping for a surprise. The result, long story short: Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.

I was examining this and her other novel, Flights, both of which I couldn't resist; but my budget wouldn't allow such indulgence. So I settled with the one that involves death and astrology. So right up my alley.
How wonderful—to translate from one language to another, and by so doing to bring people closer to one another—what a beautiful idea. (p 229)
The publication notes on my copy indicates translation copyright in 2018. Only a year ago. But the novel was originally published (in Polish) in 2009. I am grateful. It's not a case anymore of too little time too much to read for me; but of too little literature with too few of intrigue. We need more translated works.

If you're wondering whether or not I liked Drive your plow... Let me say that the next time I enter a book store, I'll be sure to leave with a copy of Flights in my bag. Olga rocks. Enjoy this passage:
"You know what, sometimes it seems to me we're living in a world that we fabricate for ourselves. We decide what's good and what isn't, we draw maps of meaning for ourselves...And then we spend our whole lives struggling with what we have invented for  ourselves. The problem is that each of us has our own version of it, so people find it hard to understand each other."

. . . .

I spent ages pondering what the Gray Lady had said. And I think it tallies with one of my Theories—my belief that the human psyche evolved in order to defend us against seeing the truth. To prevent us from catching sight of the mechanism. The psyche is our defense system—it makes sure we'll never undrestand what's going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even though the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering. (pp 224 – 225)

22 September 2019

Highlights from 'What Belongs to You'

Greenwell, Garth. What Belongs to You. Picador, 2016.

A personal background

Garth Greenwell slipped into my radar fairly recently. My excitement rose when I read this interview where he talks about his upcoming second book, Cleanness, which is connected to his debut novel, What Belongs to You by way of having the same narrator.

He had me at, "I had the goal of writing a scene that was, at once, one hundred percent pornographic and one hundred percent high art." I've been wanting to consume something like this in literature and film. If the interview is any indication, maybe Greenwell will deliver.

The book will be out in January 2020. In the interim, I sought What Belongs to You, got myself acquainted and updated, and properly hyped.

Some underlined bits
...when I looked at his face, which was twisted in disgust, it was as if I saw his true face, his authentic face, not the learned face of fatherhood. He covered himself quickly and left the room, saying nothing, but his look entered me and settled there and has never left, it rooted beneath memory and became my understanding of myself, my understanding and expectation. (p 72)

I introduced him to my solitude and he deepened it without disturbance. (p 77)

That's all care is, I thought, it's just looking at a thing long enough, why should it be a question of scale? This seemed like a hopeful thought at first, but then it's hard to look at things, or to look at them truly, and we can't look at many at once, and it's so easy to look away. ( 139)

Making poems was a way of loving things, I had always thought, of preserving them, of living moments twice; or more than that, it was a way of living more fully, of bestowing on experience a richer meaning. But that wasn't what it felt like when I looked back at the boy, wanting a last glimpse of him; it felt like a loss. Whatever I could make of him would diminish him, and I wondered whether I wasn't really turning my back on things in making them into poems, whether instead of preserving the world I was taking refuge from it. (p 170 – 171)

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