The Daily

Fiction

Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Dead of Carinthia

January 3, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

As a child, I often heard it said that the inhabitants of the village of my birth who had died away from Carinthia had been repatriated and their bodies committed to the soil of their birth. Siegfried Naschenweng, who died in an automobile accident on Golan Heights, was brought first to Vienna in an airplane, and from there repatriated to Kamering in a hearse from the funeral home in Feistritz. One of my mother’s brothers, who fell in the war in Yugoslavia, was repatriated to Feistritz by train. My uncle picked up his mortal remains with a hay cart drawn by two horses and brought them to Kamering, where they lay exposed one more day in his parents’ farmhouse. Apart from all the deceased enumerated and described in this book, the arms, legs, and skulls nailed to the tall stakes that Wilhelm Müller, author of the text to Franz Schubert’s Winterreise, saw in passing from his carriage, while a young priest made the sign of the cross over every piece of the cadaver, are also repatriated to the graveyard of bitter oranges and coated with the ashes from the statue of Saint Florian, patron saint of fire, that the landholders of Kamering burned when the saint allowed the village, which had been built in the form of a cross at the end of the century before, to be reduced to ashes by two children playing with fire, so that it had to be rebuilt, once more in the form of a cross. The corpses of the then five-year-old children who were forced to live with a skull in their chambers in a Trappist monastery, to dine for years on nothing but bread and potatoes that they themselves planted, who were forced to wear a horse’s bit whenever they spoke a word without permission and had to sleep in coffins when they accidentally slept late in the mornings, once again open their eyes in grave number 24 of the graveyard of bitter oranges.Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Bloody Boar

January 2, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

The first night after we had moved into a sublet room in Rome, I dreamed of a girl who had a swatch of blood resembling a Hitler moustache on her upper lip. As she approached me, and I kicked my legs at her frantically, blood ran from down over her mouth and chin. I sprang awake, and tried to awaken Andrea, but I seemed to be paralyzed, and it was only minutes later that I could once more move around the bed. I said nothing, and waited more than an hour for sleep to return. After that dream followed a second. Bishops and cardinals in their vestments were dying in a hail of bullets; though they stayed dead in their seats, I could not distinguish a single wound on their bodies. I approached a cardinal and looked long at his body. Then I was jarred awake once more by the clangorous bell of the Convent in the Via Tolmino, which tolls every quarter of an hour and which had only allowed me, my first few nights there, to sleep in fifteen-minute increments.

You no longer show any sign of life? But I write about death, my friend!

I like to be among the dead, they do me no harm, and they are people, too. Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Torch

January 1, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

The monk from Assisi, who had removed his upper and lower dentures on Holy Saturday so that his cheeks would look as sunken as the tomb of Jesus after the resurrection, said repeatedly: Don’t give the dogs the gnawed leg bones of the Easter lamb, bury them in the cemetery, do not even think of giving them to the dogs!

At six-thirty in the morning in a café in Stazione Termini in Rome, when I was about to catch the train to Austria, I espied a dwarf who stood as tall as my knees and carried with him a gilded stool, to be able to sit down whenever he wished, and one of the bar patrons ordered him a cappucio. He leaned down to hand it to him, and I turned back and stayed in Rome. I believe the dwarf will be particularly beautiful in heaven, the painter said.

Once again I surprised myself as I thought how much I should have liked it had the boy, whom a passing car had grazed, been run over instead, so that I could lift up his body, still warm and bleeding—the boy’s body and mine, a pietà—and together, already adorned with cross-shaped funeral bouquets, we could have waited for the hearse to arrive.

I opened my chest with a scalpel, extracted my slippery heart, sliced it into shreds so that, with this red rag, as I called it in my dream, I could wipe off my ink-stained fountain pen, which lay atop a poem by Robert Musil: The sister sweetly separates / The sleeper’s sex and swallows it / Leaving in exchange her heart / in the same spot, soft and red. Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Blood of Saint Januarius

December 31, 2013 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

One day I asked my mother how she had found out that her three brothers, eighteen, twenty, and twenty-two years of age, had died in the matter of a year during the Second World War. Adam’s coming home too, but different! my grandmother seems to have said to my then sixteen-year-old mother, who had just returned home from an exam in Home Economics. His body was brought by train from Yugoslavia to Feistritz, where one of the other siblings transported his brother Adam, who was already lying in his coffin, in a horse carriage over the still unpaved road home to Kamering. My mother got word of her second brother’s death as she was climbing a hill, a rake on her shoulder, in the direction of the cemetery, and saw my grandmother standing in prayer in the distance over her brother Adam’s freshly dug grave. The sacristan’s wife, who was also in the cemetery, approached my grandmother and asked her why she was crying. Stefan is gone! my grandmother said. Stefan is gone! my mother heard as she walked, a rake over her shoulder, along the cemetery wall. She was informed of the death of her third brother by the mail carrier at the time, who herself lost her only son, more than ten years back, on Golan Heights. She brought to my mother’s sister, who was resting against the garden fence, a letter that my grandfather had written to his son Hans at the front. Over the envelope was a handwritten message: fallen for greater Germany! According to my mother, my grandfather’s legs shook when he read this note, and his wife, my grandmother, collapsed unconscious at his side. Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Dead Children

December 30, 2013 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

In the wine cellar, the ash from the volcano disgorged the wine from the bottles and barrels and filled them back to the brim. In the tombs, it displaced the ashes of the dead, settling down their place. The mouth, eye sockets, and skulls were filled by the rain of ashes from the volcano. A stream of lava, fifty meters wide and two meters deep, descended the slope of Mount Etna at seventy meters per minute. The lava flooded the stone houses as well, where pious images were hung, and flowed over the black crosses on the roadsides commemorating murders that had taken place. At night, the ash fell over the neighboring villages and the next day, the air was dull brown. Monks wore on their breasts the image of an erupting volcano, and stopped before each window, waiting until they’d received alms for the homeless. Boys ran through the shadowy side streets with lanterns on sticks, looking for cigarette butts that smelled of the fires of Purgatory. Street urchins hurled oranges and lemons at a train covered in with a film of hot ashes. Peasants leaned sacred images against the still-undamaged trees to stanch the searing flow of the lava. A tourist led an ass to the summit of Mount Etna to hurl it into the lava’s dreadful deluge. As it fell, the animal let out horrible cries before it burst into flames and blackened like a thicket of broom. The tour guide cooked the tourists fresh hen eggs in the scorching cinders from the volcano. English tourists pressed coins bearing the head of the queen into the hot lava, cleaned off the bits of lava that clung to the molten matter, and took them back home as souvenirs. Read More »

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Bones

October 9, 2013 | by

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You discover one day—while everyone else is doing whatever it is that makes them happy—that you can almost pop one of the bones in your hand right out of the skin. It’s awesome. First, you practice in secret, when you’re bored or exasperated by school. But one day, you are practicing out in the open when someone notices the little bit of white sticking out, and they say, Wow, how cool, and they ask you to do it again. Look at this guy, they say—when formerly you were ignored or marginalized or made to feel you were odd or would at any rate never to amount to much—and it occurs to you: maybe you’re on to something.

You get good at it, the bone popping, and in college you realize there’s a whole department devoted to the study of it: how they did it in the old days, how it became different when the boats came to North America. Yet, on the musty college campus, everything seems safe and no one’s trying hard enough. In fact, it’s difficult to find anyone doing a good or brave job of bone popping.

Eventually, you find places in the big city—loft buildings, various dark cafés—where people gather. Most can pop one or two hand bones, but a few can do their whole arm bone or an entire leg. Some of these people are actually making a living doing this. They get contracts to spend years on one big bone popping. Some win awards, or fellowships. But no matter how good you get, one old timer says, never remove your heart. Then you’re dead.

So you practice, getting good, refining your technique. Read More »

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