Fiction Pick of the Week: "Swimming Underwater"
A family disintegration, past and present.
A family disintegration, past and present.
A depressed young woman takes a serving job alongside ominous, creepy co-workers.
Trials and dangers abound for an interplanetary social worker.
"The Planetary Tourism Agency always compensated the family members of the unlucky victims of dematerialization, giving the evergreen excuse that on Earth they didn’t have enough experience managing such advanced equipment, because extraterrestrial technicians were reluctant to train human crews to run teleport booths. Maybe there was a bit of truth in that. Surely newly trained human teletransport specialists would get off the planet as fast as they could: artists, scientists, athletes—they all ran from their birth world as soon as extraterrestrial credits made them understand where true happiness could be found."
Iraq, ten years later: Sectarian assassins, posing as bodyguards, are baffled by an egg-laying rabbit. Translated by Jonathan Wright.
"The rabbit had been with us for a month and I had already spent two months with Salsal in this fancy villa in the north of the Green Zone. The villa was detached, surrounded by a high wall and with a gate fitted with a sophisticated electronic security system. We didn’t know when zero hour would come. Salsal was a professional, whereas they called me duckling because this was my first operation."
An attempt to clean out a vacant room instigates an existential crisis, in this new translation of the opening of Lispector's 1964 novel.
"And though I’d gone into the room, I seemed to have gone into nothing. Even once inside it, I was still somehow outside. As if the room weren’t deep enough to hold me and I had to leave pieces of myself in the hallway, in the worst rejection to which I’d ever fallen victim: I didn’t fit."
A writer and a spacefarer discuss time travel, the symmetry of the universe, and the conquest of America.
"Don't forget what I was in the middle of. I had to recount my adventures again, silently invoking Marco Polo, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Italo Calvino, and the annals of geography. It turned out very well: they were all hanging on what I said, they were scared when they were supposed to be scared and they laughed when they were supposed to laugh."
Men working in penal servitude develop a fascination with a sixteen-year-old seamstress.
"Life was stuffy and tight in a stone box under a low heavy ceiling, coated in soot and cobweb. It was hard and sickening in thick walls, spotted in dirt and mold. We rose at 5:00 AM, unrested, and dull, indifferent by 6:00 we were making kringles from dough our comrades made while we slept. And all day at a table from morning to ten at night, shaping elastic dough and rocking to and fro so as to not go numb, while others kneaded flour with water. All day sadly purred boiling water in the pot where kringles cooked; on the stove the baker's shovel hit fast and angrily, flinging slippery boiled dough on hot brick. Morning to night wood burned in the oven and flared, reflecting red flame on the workshop wall, as if silently laughing at us."
Down in out in an unnamed Californian city: newly-translated Japanese noir from the 1920s.
"First, he was obliged to pretend to search through his pockets. Of course he knew he wouldn't find anything. All he had was the penny he'd found earlier. But if that penny were to show up now, it would only ruin his act. At times like this, Sakuzō could become quite the performer."</blockqoute></p>
Sketches from the violent, troubled life of a Middle Eastern man.
"The boy’s name was Mokhtar, but no one ever called him anything but Chico. I first got to know him when he was fifteen. He had grown up healthy and handsome. His pockets were always stuffed with money, and that was what was special about him. His life consisted of sitting in cafes, day and night, and he learned to drink alcohol and to sleep with whores. He was generous and goodhearted, but if he got angry he could be dangerous, and he often got angry when he was drunk. When Chico was seventeen his aunt died, leaving him her bank account, three houses and a bakery in the city, and a big farm out in the country. He began to give large parties, buying great quantities of food and drink for many friends, and spending even more on girls."
A lyrical meditation on morning in the city, from the newly published Berlin Stories collection.
"A giantess like this doesn’t dress so quickly; but each of her beautiful, huge motions is fragrant and steams and pounds and peals. "
The perceptions of an Italian mule, pressed into military service on the long WWII onslaught on Stalingrad.
"Everything had become habitual and therefore right. Everything had joined together to form a life that was right and natural: hard labour, the asphalt, drinking troughs, the smell of axle grease, the thunder of the stinking, long-barrelled guns, the smell of tobacco and leather from the driver’s fingers, the evening bucket of maize, the bundle of prickly hay."