Excerpt from Trieste by Dasa Drndic, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Trieste

by Dasa Drndic

Trieste
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2015, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Linda Hitchcock

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Excerpt
Trieste

For sixty-two years she has been waiting.

She sits and rocks by a tall window in a room on the third floor of an Austro-Hungarian building in the old part of Old Gorizia. The rocking chair is old and, as she rocks, it whimpers.

Is that the chair whimpering or is it me? she asks the deep emptiness, which, like every emptiness, spreads its putrid cloak in all directions to draw her in, her, the woman rocking, to swallow her, blanket her, swamp her, envelop her, ready her for the rubbish heap where the emptiness, her emptiness, is piling the corpses, already stiffened, of the past. She sits in front of her old-fashioned darkened window, her breathing shallow, halting (as if she were sobbing, but she isn't) and at first she tries to get rid of the stench of stale air around her, waving her hand as if shooing away flies, then to her face, as if splashing it or brushing cobwebs from her lashes. Foul breath (whose? whose?) fills the room, rising to a raging torrent and she knows she must arrange the pebbles around her gravestone, now, just in case, in case he doesn't come, in case he does, after she has been expecting him for sixty-two years.

He will come.

I will come.

She hears voices where there are none. Her voices are dead. All the same, she converses with the voices of the dead, she quibbles with them, sometimes she slumps limply into their arms and they whisper to her and guide her through landscapes she has forgotten. There are times when events boil over in her mind and then her thoughts become an avenue of statues, granite, marble, stone statues, plaster figures that do nothing but move their lips and tremble. This must be borne. Without the voices she is alone, trapped in her own skull that grows softer and more vulnerable by the day, like the skull of a newborn, in which her brain, already somewhat mummified, pulses wearily in the murky liquid, slowly, like her heart; after all, everything is diminishing. Her eyes are small and fill readily with tears. She summons non-existent voices, the voices that have left her, summons them to replenish her abandonment.

By her feet there is a big red basket, reaching to her knees. From the basket she takes out her life and hangs it on the imaginary clothes line of reality. She takes out letters, some of them more than a hundred years old, photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings, magazines, and leafs through them, she thumbs through the pile of lifeless paper and then sorts it yet again, this time on the floor, or on the desk by the window. She arranges her existence. She is the embodiment of her ancestors, her kin, her faith, the cities and towns where she has lived, her time, fat sweeping time like one of those gigantic cakes which master chefs of the little towns of Mitteleuropa bake for popular festivities on squares, and then she takes it and she swallows it and hoards it, walls herself in, and all of that now rots and decomposes inside her.

She is wildly calm. She listens to a sermon for dirty ears and drapes herself in the histories of others, here in the spacious room in the old building at Via Aprica 47, in Gorica, known as Gorizia in Italian, GoÅNrz in German, and Gurize in the Friulian dialect, in a miniature cosmos at the foot of the Alps, where the River Isonzo, or So?a, joins the River Vipava, at the borders of fallen empires.

Her story is a small one, one of innumerable stories about encounters, about the traces preserved of human contact. She knows this, just as she knows that Earth can slumber until all these stories of the world are arranged in a vast cosmic patchwork which will wrap around it. And until then history, reality's phantom, will continue to unravel, chop, take to pieces, snatch patches of the universe and sew them into its own death shroud. She knows that without her story the job will be incomplete, just as she knows that there is no end, that the end reaches on to eternity, beyond existence. She knows that the end is madness, as Umberto Saba once told her while he was in hospital here, in Gorizia, in Dr Basaglia's ward perhaps, or maybe it was in Trieste with Dr Weiss. She knows that the end is a dream from which there is no waking. And the shortcuts she takes, the quickest ways to get from one place to the next, are often nearly impassable, truly goats' paths. These shortcuts may stir her nostalgia for those long, straight, rectilinear, provincial roads, also something Umberto Saba told her then, so she sweeps away the underbrush of her memory now, memories for which she cannot say whether they even sank to the threshold of memory, or are still in the present, set aside, stored, tucked away. It is along these overgrown shortcuts that she walks. She knows there is no such thing as coincidence; there is no such thing as the famous brick which falls on a person's head; there are links – and resolve – of which we seem to be unaware, for which we search.

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Excerpted from Trieste by Dasa Drndic. Copyright © 2014 by Dasa Drndic. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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