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