One of my favorite books of 2009 is Fado, by Polish author Andrzej Stasiuk, translated by Bill Johnston and published by Dalkey Archive Press. Stasiuk says that he set out to write a "Slavic On The Road", and you can hear Kerouac in the first pages "Somewhere on the horizon are the fires of human settlements, indistinguishable from the distant glimmer of stars. Oh, the flickering artery of nothingness, oh the recollection of ancient times when we were homeless in the world, when space was terrifying in its immensity. Now it irks us with its elusiveness."
He takes us, thru a series of travel essays, on his road:Ukraine, Romania, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, limestone karst, Accursed Mountains, Carpathians, Slovakia, Great Hungarian Plain...
"I always drift toward that part of the world... toward the hollows amid high ground, those narrow places in the landscape inhabited by forgotten people leading inconspicuous lives."
"I felt I was alone in the world, and this brought me joy. Beneath the dark night sky, amid the smell of cattle, somewhere at the end of the world, I was more aware of my own existence than ever before or ever again."
He tells us of places, but also of people, of authors (Danilo Kis, Bulatovic, Adam Bodor) and a Polish Pope (His face "looked like all of the faces to be found at markets, in village inns, at fairs and in buses leaving county towns for even smaller places. With the passage of time his face became the face of a peasant, the face of a wagon driver. It was as if in old age he were returning to his people."
The fado of the title refers to the style of Portuguese song, and a moment of hearing a Portuguese fado on the radio in Albania " the melancholy of the music and the melancholy of the town intermingled...and i thought to myself that Portugal is in a sense similar to Albania. Both lie at the edge of a landmass,at the edge of a continent, at the edge of the world. Both countries lead somewhat unreal lives beyond the main flow of history and events."
Stasiuk loves the Carpathians. He says: I've lived in the Carpathians for seventeen years, and I've learned to think of them as a separate country or even continent...To live in the Carpathians is to live in solitude and at the same time to have a sense of remote community."
He says that " an inhabitant of this part of the world looks back and sees the last few decades as a series of defeats, betrayals, and bloody experiments performed on the living organisms of societies. He looks back and doesn't find anything he can lean on. The past has been stolen, tarnished, ransacked...We emerged from nonexistence before we were able to find ourselves a form, a character, an identity precisely; but it turned out that we didn't need to do even this. It's enough to take on the grotesque gestures of contemporary mass culture for us to be instantly absorbed into the universal community of individuals living, playing, suffering and experiencing emotions all in exactly the same way."
Gypsies keep appearing in the narrative ."I thought about the Gypsies. Truth be told, I think about them often...Their presence disquiets me yet at the same time arouses my admiration" "They'd taken a shortcut here from the depths of times long gone, and they felt perfectly comfortable in the present.""Here is a dark skinned, unlettered people that for centuries has been passing through Europe and Europeanness as though these were poor, sparsely populated, unattractive lands. From time to time they come upon something they can make use of, but mostly it looks as though they already have all they need with them. Everything suggests that they've learned nothing from us and that they're unimpressed by the things we're so proud of."
Travelers. Stasiuk says "To travel is to live". and to read these essays is to travel with him for a short while, and to loive in new places, where he has lived.
We also now carry three works of fiction by Stasiuk: Nine, White Raven, and Tales of Galicia.