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