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