Landscapes of Emptiness
I'm searching my Multilingual Library for Norwegian literature, as well as any guides, maps or travel books that might serve us, my husband and me, in our trip to Norway this summer. Yes, my vacation will be in Scandinavia again; this is the obvious and predictable result of marrying Arabian sheikhs, I say this for advice and consideration of any young ladies that might contemplate similar options. Be that as it may, some beautiful northern pictures are bound to appear on this page in a couple of months. In the meantime, I try to get on with some reading. I also bought a beginner's manual of Norwegian language; that would be something like my 22nd language, but I simply cannot deny myself such simple pleasures.
Certainly, it is an extravagance. Why should I read anything whatsoever in Norwegian, let alone speak it? Norway, with its mere four or five millions of inhabitants, is famous for being one of the world's richest - as well as most democratic - countries, but not necessarily for its literature. Even though, there are few places in the world that are not represented, however cheaply and imperfectly, in my Multilingual Library. And soon I found a Baedeker and a map.
I also discover that I've had a Norwegian book ever since I was a teenager, and my Multilingual Library could comfortably stand on just a single bookshelf. It was Sult (Hunger, 1890) by Knut Hamsun, a novel that, for some reason, apparently was regarded as important in Poland at the time. Is it an important book in World Literature? I'm not sure about it; it is rather an "ultraminor", just like Multatuli's Max Havelaar or any other great novel from a minor European literature. Was it Przybyszewski, or someone of the kind, that discovered it for the Poles? Or did it become famous somehow on the wave of Kierkegaard? No idea.
The fact is that Hamsun's Hunger, in hard cover, adorned for many years my bookshelf, together with Bhagavadgita and Eliot's Waste Land.
I also find a tiny anthology of Norwegian prose in Polish translation published by Świat Literacki. They must have offered me the book, together with some more from the same series, when they wanted me to make a similar Portuguese one for them; in the end, there was nothing of it. But the selection of Norwegian stories stayed with me ever since. Now it is obsolete, and I will leave it at the local public library. In the meantime, I put my eyes, at least, on some names of Norwegian authors that made their way to this little Polish anthology: Kjell Askildsen, Tor Åge Bringsværd, Lars Sabye Christensen, Roy Jacobsen, Øystein Lønn, Herbjørg Wassmo, and Bjørg Vik.
They represent the literature that was read a quarter of a century ago, if not more, in the 1980s and early 1990s; the taste must be very different by now. But I like Askildsen's Thomas F's siste nedtegnelser til almenheten (Ostatnie zapiski Tomasza F. dla publiczności in my Polish version), first published in 1983. I suppose it corresponds to my unnamed expectation of what Norwegian prose might look like, such a vision of a solitary, but self-reliant and bitterly ironic old man, so tough and so jealous about his place in the world. Especially at the moment when his death appears to be heavily overdue.
I came to my old home to get rid of many items from my Multilingual Library; I cannot and do not want to take it to the Netherlands as it is. I want to leave behind many such books as this modest, and now obsolete anthology of Norwegian prose. In the Netherlands, I want my collection to be richer, more beautiful, better edited, and up-to-date. Such a shabby little book in Polish testifies of my modest beginnings, makes me feel ashamed of possessing it, as if it were a proof that all my knowledge and reading in World Literature was just this, a glance through a key hole. But somehow, Tomas F. also make me anticipate my own old age, first throwing memories to make place for some sort of deviant collection, and then burning drawers and cupboards that remained empty. Only to increase the general emptiness of the room.
Antologia współczesnej prozy norweskiej, ed. Anna Marciniakówna, trans. Lucyna Chomicz-Dąbrowska, Ela Hygen, Anna Marciniakówna, Iwona Zimnicka, Izabelin, Świat Literacki, 1996.