In the Rediscovered Book
Edward Gauvin translating the French of Eugène Savitzkaya
In the book rediscovered in the drawer of the Gordon press, in the white cellar of the house on the mountains in the land that knew so many plagues and disasters, you saw trucks rolling down a muddy road, their enormous wheels splattering cyclists, many cyclists, red, blue and green; you saw quite low over the woods the balloon in flames, and in a well-mown meadow, fallen oxen washed by rain; you saw, sitting on a stone shaped like an oval table, a young girl wearing a crown made from natural palm leaves soaked in varnish, plastic ivy leaves and pearl flowers, wearing a great black wool damask paletot, lined with gray squirrel glistening with dew, but browned in spots. No loupe was needed, all this was blindingly obvious. Nearby, in the book, was a bridge of astounding shape and size thrown over a cliff, and formed of a rounded arch with a thirty-foot span, depthless and anchored on two rocky projections, seemingly supported by thin air. From atop the bridge, you gazed on the falls you felt settling on you in a fine rain. It made itself felt: your cheeks, hair, and shoulders were soaked with it. You were cold and trembling. In the rediscovered book, the fields were fragrant only with buckwheat in bloom. No point sticking your nose between the pages, the smell was cloying; it drew bees and flies, the air quivered. Sometimes, in the book, a little girl beneath her raspberry parasol would leave the house and run to meet her two brothers, who were fishing; she would stick a pink worm on her hook and cast the line whose light float was but goosedown touched up with a brushstroke, sensitive to the slightest impact. In the deep, transparent stream of the book could be seen, if you leaned over, eels, unmoving trout, shadows with violet fins, rocks, pebbles, dark whirlpools, strings of swirling eddies, sparkling shingle and shells, chases and clashes. The water in the book flowed with wondrous swiftness under your eyes, usually clear, utterly limpid, but sometimes bearing small uprooted trees, baobab trunks that bumped the banks, many ice cubes ripped from rock walls like clayey clouds, smoke suddenly opaque, lightning. Fish living in the stream of the book were mostly striped or boldly golden, rarely scarlet. If the children should happen to see a red one, red like a poppy or rust, they said not a word to anyone, but celebrated the event amongst themselves, calm and delighted, smoking cigars rolled from rhubarb leaves and sucking on honey. Only children dared venture down the stream in the book; indeed, they had a monopoly on the manufacture of high-prowed pirogues from leaves, in which they rowed down bow and bend and every whitewater between. All the book’s children were in love; they polished their nails, smoothed their hair, and painted their lips. At night in the book, trucks passing by on the road crushed the sheep, then the dogs who’d come to devour the dead or wounded sheep, then other wilder dogs drawn by the fresh flesh of the dead or wounded dogs and the reek of the sheep’s remains. Night in the book smelled bad. No need to poke your nose between its pages to check, the stink was so bad. At the heart of the book, the balloon exploded, and the charred navigator landed on the pines. The young woman watching the scene let herself be bitten and eaten by ants. Only the children kept playing.
Edward Gauvin has received fellowships and residencies from the NEA, PEN America and PEN England, the Fulbright Program, the Centre National du Livre, and the Lannan Foundation. His translation of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud's selected stories A Life on Paper (Small Beer, 2010) won the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award. Other publications have appeared in Conjunctions, Subtropics, The New York Times, Tin House, and The Southern Review. The winner of the John Dryden Translation prize, he is a contributing editor at Words Without Borders, and writes on the fantastic for Weird Fiction Review.
Born in 1955 to parents of Ukrainian descent, Belgian Eugène Savitzkaya has written more than forty books of fiction, poetry, plays, and essays. He received Prix triennal du roman for his 1994 novel Marin mon coeur. Rules of Solitude (Quale Press, 2004; trans. Gian Lombardo), a collection of prose poems, was his first book in English. His work is forthcoming from Unstuck.