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Published by: Dalkey Archive Press, 2009
Strony / Pages: 176, soft cover
List price: $13.95(Save 15% off)Online price: $11.86
The Polish novelist and essayist Andrzej Stasiuk owns a century-old travel map of Austro-Hungary.
Aside from its fragility, he writes, its most notable feature is its level of detail:
"[E]very village of half a dozen cottages, every godforsaken backwater where the train stops—even only the slow train, even only once a week-all those places are marked and labeled, all are preserved and their names can be read with a magnifying glass, just as if you were reading the past itself, or discovering the origins of a legend."
Throughout this captivating collection of essays, Stasiuk does much the same job of preservation for contemporary Central Europe-in particular, the region of the Carpathian Mountains of southern Poland where he lives, just over the border from Slovakia, and the surrounding countries within driving distance of his home. He visits a World War I military cemetery; he encounters Gypsies who have "survived the perils of extermination and the lure of assimilation"; and he provides pithy descriptions of the cultural traits of many other Central European national and ethnic groups in this region that he calls (borrowing the term from Hannah Arendt) the "zone of mixed populations."
Fado is named for a style of Portuguese folk song noted for its melancholy. But while a melancholic tone occasionally creeps into Stasiuk's prose, he is no wistful nostalgist. His clear-eyed observations of the present are every bit as engaging as his reclamations of the past. Here he is describing a gathering of youths in the main town of his home county:
You can hear shouts, curses, sometimes the sound of breaking glass. Occasionally a police car appears and for a moment there's calm. Then the police drive off and the party starts up again. Someone throws up, someone cuddles someone else, someone goes into the store for another can of beer. Groups move from one car to another. It's a little like a caravan encampment where cars play the roles of both horses and tents. From time to time someone drives off and a short while later returns. Because these young people have cars, but they don't have anywhere to travel to in them. Or perhaps it just doesn't occur to them that they could actually go somewhere.