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Absinthe - 2006

  • Subtitle: New European Writing
  • Published Date: 2006
  • Publication Cycle: Annual

In a recent New Yorker article, Milan Kundera charted the genealogy of some of the most important writers of the last five centuries by tracing a map of "influences" that criss-crossed continents, hemispheres, and oceans. In doing so, he made a case for the importance of translation, which allows literature to jump outside of the "provincial" context of the country (and language) in which it was written, and resituate itself in the vastly more important "supranational territory of art." Absinthe – a journal that dedicates itself to publishing translations of "new European writing" – is a small but wonderful island in that territory. Some of the pieces (from writers working in Greek, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and a slate of other European languages) are occasionally tinged with a tone of political irony that struck me as clichéd. Although these writers are clearly "correct," I found their seemingly rote anger disturbing. Much of the more personal work is stronger: Shasha Skenderija's "When you leave, I go to the movies," for instance ("When you leave, I kick empty beer cans / down the street. And it is so void"), or Kostas Karyotakis' sad, serene "If Only Grief": “If only grief had come, or joy; I simply wished / my heart had broken and fallen lightly on the ground, / like a rose petal caught by a storm / or even like one heavy with the morning dew.” But my favorite piece in the issue is Niklas Radstrom's "Absinthe: The Story of a Blue Titmouse" (translated from the Swedish by Laura A. Wideburg). This is a very little story about a very little bird, whom Radstrom calls (coincidentally) Absinthe on account of its coloring. The bird, found by Radstrom's wife on the side of a road, is nursed to health by the couple, who lovingly feed it mashed fly corpses, worms, larvae, multivitamins, chopped meat, and puppy food. This story-essay is a miniature to be sure, and personal, but the politics here – just a few humorous similes drawn between the power-plays at the bird feeder and those at the U.N. – are more sincere and thought-provoking precisely because they are less strident. And Radstrom, like his fluffy, demanding house-guest, displays a "somewhat frightened and astonished curiosity about the world around him." []

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Review Posted on April 30, 2007

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