We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Andrea Scrima, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is an essay on Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai.
To read all entries in this series, click here.
Herta Müller, Niederungen (Nadirs)
As she attempts to make sense of the brutal reality around her, a child narrator escapes the claustrophobia of village life and its everyday cruelties to inhabit the lyrical dimensions of her own imagination. The poetic force of Nobel laureate Herta Müller’s language was already apparent in Nadirs, her first published work describing the lives of the German-speaking Banat Swabians in the hopelessness and dread of communist Romania. Following years of struggle with censors under Ceaucescu’s dictatorship, an uncensored version was finally smuggled to the West, where it found instant acclaim. The original uncut version was published for the first time in 2010.
Lydia Davis, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis has a peculiar genius for dissecting metaphysical quandaries into distinct slices of sober language that twinkle with wry humor. As with Müller and the Nobel Prize, the fact that Davis won this year’s Man Booker is enough to make me believe in just rewards in literature again. Like a brain tonic, Davis’s pared-down language purifies the mind of excess verbiage. Her observations are sly and ruthless, her sentences deeply satisfying. No one can ever read enough of Lydia Davis, which is why I recommend reading everything, all of it, and as often as possible.
I’ve struck it lucky this year: two of my more remarkable reading experiences were books I was invited to review. Seiobo There Below is a colossal work that stands on its own, seemingly outside of time. Otherwise known for his dark, apocalyptic visions, Krasznahorkai has pushed himself to the limits of the imagination in this extraordinary study on the nature of the sacred in art and civilization. As the protagonists of these short works of incantatory prose search for a higher meaning in art, they stumble over a luminous immanence they can barely countenance. You can read my recent review of Seiobo There Below in issue 33 of The Quarterly Conversation.
I’m including someone in my list who has not yet been translated into English: Einar Schleef, the brilliant East German dramatist, writer, painter, set designer, and actor. Elfriede Jelinek called him one of the two greatest minds Germany produced in the post-war period; the other was Fassbinder. Reading his journals from 1981 to 1998 brings back the somewhat surreal years in West Berlin leading up to and immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall—and reveals a mind that perceived far beyond history to the mythological and tragic in the human condition. I am hoping these words will implant themselves in someone’s mind: read Einar Schleef and translate him as soon as possible.