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Fragment: Bianca Bellová - Dead man

11 mei treedt de Tsjechische schrijfster Bianca Bellová op tijdens de Nacht van de Europese Literatuur in De Brakke Grond (Amsterdam). Lees hieronder een Engelstalig fragment uit haar roman 'Mrtvý muž' (Dode man).

Bianca Bellová, Mrtvý muž (Host; Brno 2011) 180p ISBN 978-80-7294-495-8. 

In Mrtvý muž (Dode man), de tweede roman van Bianca Bellová, blikt een vrouw terug op leven in het grauwe Tsjechoslowakije van de jaren zeventig en tachtig. Onder de oppervlakte spelen tal van familiedrama's: een door de communisten vermoorde grootvader, de openlijke haat van grootmoeder voor het regime, de beginnende mentale problemen van haar moeder en de coming-out van haar vader. Hieronder een door David Short naar het Engels vertaald fragment uit Mrtvý muž. , dat onderaan als pdf is te downloaden. Kijk hier voor meer informatie over de Nacht van de Europese Literatuur op 11 mei in De Brakke Grond (Amsterdam).

Bianca Bellová: Dead Man

Translated by: David Short 

The lives of our saints, continued: Grandma and Grandpa had a decent flat, but when it was found that Grandpa had to be hanged there and then, the housing department decided to partition the flat and make it into two. They then installed in the other half a Mr Verner and a Dr Pěnička, a pair of homosexual intellectuals, who Daddy invariably referred to as “those old queens”, and when David reached puberty he warned him a couple of times to be careful and never stand with his back to them, especially when using the toilet, which was shared by both households.

            Verner and Pěnička rose above Daddy’s homophobic comments, having heard plenty worse. And they had probably reserved judgement on Daddy anyway. Truth to tell, I never understood how it was possible in those days for a homosexual couple to be given a flat. During my own puberty I would to go theirs to listen to Nina Simone and Johnny Cash and drink proper coffee and, later, Tokay wine.

            Our family retained the kitchen, where Grandma slept (when she first saw Daddy, she said: “You can’t make a silk purse out of sow’s ear,” and that was the last she ever said on Mum’s choice of partner), and our parents’ room, which was Daddy’s ‘study’ – in very big quotation marks – by day: spread out across the table he had his university textbooks about medieval music in Central Europe and on top of them leather-bound editions of Ovid’s verse and Seneca’s De vita beata. In the evening, he would sit in there in his faded floral dressing gown, eyes closed, a glass of red in his hand, listening to Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mahler: I wasn’t under orders not to disturb him, but whenever I went in, he ignored me in such a blatant and brutal manner that I soon learned not to bother.


How should I describe to you the first time I looked reality in the face? I might be describing it like some stupid rustic idyll, but you can’t see the sweat trickling down my back and you can’t feel my tongue dragging against the roof of my mouth as if gripped by some spasm. This psychological striptease is costing me something, I’d have you know, and maybe more than when you wanted a video of me working myself up to orgasm (faked, obviously).

            Daddy was too pre-occupied with his coming-out and because of her work we only saw Mum at some very odd hours. We grew up under the severe and idiosyncratic gaze of Grandma. She would clean our faces with a hankie moistened with her own spit and at moments of acute necessity would improve us with such sayings as “Tell the truth and see which way to run” or “Another’s idiocy is for laughing at, your own is to be ashamed of”. Once we’d read Say After Me and all the Czech children’s classics, plus The Six Bullerby Children, our education moved up a stage: the history of shame. The Battle of the White Mountain, the burghers of Prague welcoming the German Army with raised-arm salutes, the people’s militia, Milada Horáková. It usually ended with a sigh to the effect that, as President Masaryk said, every nation gets the government it deserves.

            The first cock-up came when we were in the second grade, during the after-school club. Yes, it was I who suggested playing at being the Mašín brothers. Apart from David and me, none of the children knew who this meant; they probably thought they were something like blood brothers of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. Our resistance group had nearly got safely across to the West, which lay beyond the bushes at the edge of the park: David was covering our backs by peppering the police patrol who were in pursuit with fire from the long stick he was holding under his armpit and he shouted: “Die, you Communist swine!”

            A second earlier, a tram that had come clattering down the main road turned the corner and silence descended. In that silence David’s shout resonated like Enrico Caruso at La Scala. We crouched in the bushes and watched as Comrade instructress Froňková, as if taking the swine comment personally, clapped her hand to her heart and rose majestically from her bench. David was standing in the middle of the grass, too far from his own unit. He realised that he couldn’t shoot his way out against such superior opposition, so he lowered his head and his gun. Comrade Froňková was standing in for our teacher, Mrs Malá, a kindly pensioner who was also rather hard of hearing. If she’d been there, everything would have been different: in all likelihood, Mrs Malá would scarcely have looked up from her magazine and might well have smiled imperceptibly. But she happened to be away for a gall bladder operation. As it was, Comrade Froňková, with her black bun sitting high on her head and a massive green rock at her throat, took it differently: she was probably shit-scared that someone might report her if she didn’t report it herself. I bumped into her recently at the supermarket on the corner, but she didn’t recognise me and I had to introduce myself. She nodded, but you could tell she still didn’t have a clue. I asked her about that incident with the Mašín brothers, but she didn’t remember a thing. She still had that ridiculous bun and where her breasts used to be she still had some kind of stone hanging, but she couldn’t remember anything about that particular spot of bother.

            She had stood over David like Nemesis, mouth wide open, nostrils a-quiver and rapidly licking her upper lip. Eight-year-old David stared down at the tips of his plimsols.

            She asked him: “What sort of game is this, Schulz, you perishing little subversive?”

            But David didn’t reply and the agitated Comrade Froňková’s voice rose higher and higher.

            “What sort of a game is that, whose idea was it and who’s playing it with you?” she asked, her voice faltering.

            David just shook his head imperceptibly and it was like him saying that he would only answer questions regarding his name and rank.

            “Come on, let’s go and confess,” I suggested hesitantly to the other three, who were sharing my exile squatting in the box bushes. I remember that Mirka Šejvlová and I had the same red-strapped sandals. Only Mirka wet herself in fear. “You must be joking, Šulcová!” Fryml said with a scowl (as a matter principle it was surnames only with members of the opposite sex): “Go tell on yourself if you must, it was all your idea anyway.”

            As a sign of his superiority Fryml wiped his nose on his sleeve and then no one said anything more. David was marked down for misconduct and had a note added to his personal file (“Encourages others to engage in anti-socialist activities.”), while our parents received a warning that in the event of any repetition David would be expelled from school (not that the school was in any way special; the worst that could happen was that he would be transferred to another just as stupid, but even so).

            But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst thing was that when Grandma came to pick us up, Comrade Froňková, who was clearly indisposed and had to keep dashing to the toilet, handed David over with the words: “So I see you’ve got another one in the family ripening up for the gallows!” Grandma’s retort was audible, though she didn’t look at Comrade Froňková: “Shit once went a-dancing and even fluttered its buttocks!” Then she took David by one hand, grabbed his satchel in the other and left. Only once we were outside did she turn to me, take a deep breath and ask: “And where was Hana?”

            Any kind of explaining would be embarrassing, so I said nothing. I wiped my sweating palms down my sides and thought of what Grandma used to say: that God sets us only such trials as he knows we are strong enough to cope with. That was the worst thing.

            But also the walk home, where I was alone the whole way, five metres behind Grandma and David.

            “So you said: Die you Communist swine!?” Grandma asked, her voice both tender and proud.

            In the week that followed I scratched, on plaster walls in and around the school, at least a dozen rhombuses labelled Froňková, but that didn’t help a bit.

            David wasn’t cross with me, either then or at any time later. To the extent that something between us did change, it happened without anyone spotting it.


Hier is het fragment als pdf te downloaden.