E tt quote from Simone Weil launches Andrzej Tichýs new novel “misery”: “the feeling of our misery is the sense of reality.” It is a pitch-black tale whose title pinpoint exactly what it is about. The book takes place in Malmö back among marginalized young people whose lives are spelled drugs, violence and misery.
Tichý debuted with “Six liters of air”, which moves in the same desolate suburban setting, albeit with a post-apocalyptic overtones. Since then he continued to dig into the heart of darkness to different ways to explore human evil in the form of war, oppression and abuse, as in “Cairo” and “Field”, both nominated for the Nordic Council prize.
Now he is back in the suburb, and life seems more hopeless than ever. A cellist who has “gotten away”, is on the way to a concert in Copenhagen when he bumps into a junkie begging money from him. It is “the last day”, which is something cryptically said in the novel’s opening sentence, word will get a kind of explanation in the final chapter. The meeting triggers a flood of memories for the musician, voices and images welling up within him. Memories of all those who once were his brothers and sisters, by the life he managed to escape to reinvent itself and become another.
The novel parts shortly up in especially two layers. In the one we follow the musician when he jets together with his two colleagues at Slussen in Malmo and then proceed to the concert in Vor Frue Kirke in Copenhagen. In the other we are thrown back and forth in time and awash with a chorus of voices, especially the musician’s old friend Soot. They both layers slipping, however, constantly in and out of each other, collide and coalesce just to be split up. Perhaps that is the border between the two main characters also sliding, perhaps, they are only two possible development paths for a young man from the slums: get away and survive or perish and die.
Tichy writes a deli risk, detailed prose , packed with malmöitisk hose and contemporary feel. The language do well over the sides like a contaminated river, filled with dirt, despair and anxiety, an associative flow of long, broken, like the breathless sentences. Bitwise beautiful, often impressive, but sometimes also tiring.
This also applies to the content – so much misery on so many sides have ultimately a numbing effect, although Tichý also trying to shoot an occasional glimpse of something else: an ounce of love maybe, friendship, brotherhood. A brief moment of community, hope for the future. But soon he is back in the dirt, and violence again.
At one point speaks of the musician’s colleagues on a particular piece of music and say, “I remember that Impressionist, he just runs around and around in no minor chords, kind. “There is an excellent description of this novel, which, like the experimental and modernist music cellist and his friends are interested in, is full of repetitions and repetitions, of moods and patterns and variations on a theme. The result is a sort of social realist hallucination, as a distress cry from the gutter set to music by John Cage.
In an interesting third layer of the novel, the author seems to discuss with herself about whether it is possible – or even the right – to transform the lives of marginalized to art. Here and there in the story pops up Jacob Riis, who photographed the slums of the Lower East Side in New York. Riis wanted to get people to open their eyes to the suffering he documented in his pictures, in the hope that it would lead to better conditions for slum dwellers.
I do not know if Andrzej Tichý has the same kind of goal with his writing, or if he, like the homeless Soot disgusted by all the “explorers of the gutter,” but still feels compelled to give word to the misery of most of us have never seen, even though we have the right upon us.
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