In a new riff on the blog tour, MacLehose Press have invented the blog blast: a short series of posts and reviews spread over the course of one day. This is the launch day itinerary for Afonso Cruz’s Kokoschka’s Doll, translated from Portuguese by Rahul Bery.
It’s now noon on blog blast day and you may well have seen one or two reviews that have whetted your appetite. Want to try a sample? I’m happy to oblige with a little help from MacLehose Press, of course! This is the opening passage …
The voice that comes from earth
At the age of forty-two, or, to be precise, two days after his birthday that year, Bonifaz Vogel began to hear a voice. Initially, he thought it was the mice. Then he thought about calling someone to deal with the woodworm, but something stopped him. Perhaps it was the way the voice had given him orders, with the authority of those voices that live deep inside us. He knew it was all in his head, but he had the strange sensation that the words were com- ing from the floorboards, entering him through his feet. It came from the depths, filling the bird shop. Bonifaz Vogel always wore sandals, even in winter, and he felt the words slipping in through his yellowed toenails and his toes which curled from the impact of entire sentences smashing into the balls of his feet, climbing up his white, bony legs and making their way into his head through his hat. On several occasions he tried taking it off for a few seconds, but this always made him feel undressed.
Bonifaz Vogel’s soft, soft, white, white hair was always combed and always covered by a felt hat (which he alternated in summer with another, cooler hat.
He spent his days sitting in a wicker chair that an uncle had brought him from Italy.
The Duce had once sat in it, his uncle had told him.
The day he received the chair as a birthday present, Bonifaz Vogel sat down in it. He liked it, found it comfort- able; it was a nice piece of furniture, with strong legs. He picked it up and carried it above his head to the bird shop. A parrot whistled as he walked past, and Vogel smiled at it. He placed the chair next to the canaries and sat down beneath their chirping, which filled the empty spaces in his head. When the birds were singing loudly, Bonifaz Vogel would stay completely still, afraid that if he got up his head would collide with the pretty chirping.
He left his friend’s head an eternity behind
Isaac Dresner was playing with his best friend Pearlman when a German soldier appeared, between a corner and the ball hitting the crossbar. The soldier had a gun in his hand and emptied a bullet into Pearlman’s head. The boy fell face down onto Isaac Dresner’s right boot. The soldier looked at him for a few seconds. He was nervous, sweat- ing. His uniform was impeccably clean, its colour very close to death, with black, gold, white and red insignias. On his rectilinear, yellowy-white neck one could clearly make out two blue, impeccably Nazi arteries which glis- tened with sweat. The soldier’s eye colour was not visible because they were half-closed. His solid trunk moved up and down, struggling to breathe. The man pointed the gun at Isaac Dresner but the weapon remained silent, it did not fire: it was jammed. Pearlman’s head rolled off Isaac’s boot and onto the ground at an impossible, abstract angle, making a strange noise as it hit the street. It was an almost inaudible sound, the kind that is deafening.
The following things were entering Dresner’s ears
1: The soldier’s breathing.
2: The sound of the Mauser not firing.
3: The almost inaudible sound of his best friend Pearlman’s head sliding off his right boot and hitting the ground.
Isaac ran down the street on his spindly legs, leaving his friend’s head behind (an eternity behind). The soldier aimed the weapon again and fired. He missed Isaac, who was running, his boots soaked in blood and defunct mem- ories. Three bullets whistled right past Isaac Dresner’s soul, hitting the ghetto walls instead.
Despite being left a whole eternity behind him, Pearl- man’s head remained forever chained to Isaac’s right foot, by the iron chain that fastens one person to another. That was why he limped slightly and would do so for the rest of his life. Fifty years later, Isaac Dresner would still be dragging the weight of that distant head around with his right foot.
Isaac kept running, dodging the fate that was whistling alongside him
Isaac kept running, dodging the fate that was whistling alongside him. He turned several corners, leaving the soldier behind, and entered the bird shop belonging to Bonifaz Vogel, where his father had built a cellar some years earlier. Isaac had been present and had watched that dark space growing beneath the earth. At the time, he realised that:
The construction of buildings was not only a matter of piles of bricks and stones and tiles; it was also empty spaces, the nothingness which grows inside things like stomachs.
Panting, Isaac opened the trapdoor – without Bonifaz Vogel noticing – and entered like water through a drain. He stayed there for two days, only coming out at night to drink water from the birds’ drinking fountain (he hadn’t seen the tap, despite it being right in front of him) and eat birdseed. By the third day, he couldn’t take it anymore:
“Please, Mr Vogel, bring me something to eat. And a chamber pot.”
Sitting in his wicker chair, Bonifaz Vogel pricked up his ears. He was hearing voices. That was the moment he began hearing voices. The sound entered him between his legs and trousers and by the time it reached his ears it had a childlike timbre, like a cat when it is called, zigzag- ging between things. Isaac Dresner repeated his request – the second time around it was almost an order – and Vogel got up to go and look for food. Isaac told him to put the tray by the counter. That night he was pleased to see a bowl of porridge and some sweets. There was a chamber pot too.