Saturday, October 19, 2013

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Giedra Radvilavičiūtė

Giedra Radvilavičiūtė, 
Those Whom I Would Like to Meet Again

Translated from the Lithuanian by Elizabeth Novickas

Lithuanian Literature Series
Dalkey Archive Press, 2013

Giedra Radvilavičiūtė isn’t well-known in English and that’s a shame because this is a marvelous book and I can imagine many people loving it, if only they could discover it.  These are stories in the form of essays, or fictional essays – it doesn’t matter what you call them, you’ll catch the drift at once, I promise.  (The people who used to be obsessed with classifying genre appear to have finally exhausted themselves, thank God.)

These stories have the suppleness of stream of consciousness – and a sense of precision suitable for a legal secretary.  What sort of reader will be fond of this book?  Off the top of my head: fans of W.G. Sebald or Julio Cortazar or Lydia Davis.  Actually, I predict that there are fans of Lydia Davis who will like Radvilavičiūtė even better.  She has what I think of as “the Jane Bowles gift” – there’s no guessing what sentence will come next.  These essays are a cure for literary claustrophobia.

Although the longer essays are impressive, I confess that I was especially fond of the shorter ones, which are still plenty complex.  For example “Awakenings”, which begins with the narrator chatting with her dead mother, whom she discovers standing beside her bed.  When she says she wants to talk, her mother says,

“Well, be quick about it.  Just until I’ve finished my cigarette.”

She tells her mother, “This past fall I went to Kaunas.  Your granddaughter, looking out the window of the bus, saw a cow and asked, Does that cow belong to anyone, or is it Nobody’s?  I said, Cows always belong to someone, only people can be Nobody’s.  Mom. . . Now, when I wake up in a pool of sweat, most often at daybreak, I start to feel quite clearly that I myself belong to Nobody.  My eyes are Nobody’s.  My arms are Nobody’s.  My legs, skin, nails, lungs, breath, and hair – Nobody’s.  It makes me feel terrible.”

Her mother responds, “How did your daughter’s semester go?” (40)

Radvilavičiūtė is a master of the aside, the parenthetical.  When the doctor asks, “By the way, how are your relations with men?”, here’s the response:

“’Very good,’ I said, thinking of men generally, as a sort of aggregate. (As half of humanity.  Or like penguins in a snowstorm, huddled in a pile in distant Antarctica.)” (43).

This must have been a difficult book to translate, but it doesn’t read that way – it is engaging, clear and smooth.  Perhaps Novickas took the advice of the narrator in the final essay: “I think you can really only translate good prose smoothly when you’re a bit drunk.  And during a full moon.”

This book needs to be discovered!  Please read it, enjoy it, then spread the word around.

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