Anthological Excerpts: Fire on Babylon
Valentina Brunettin | 25-03-2008 | ENG
(Translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano)
Valentina Brunettin’s second novel, Fuoco su Babilonia (tr. Fire on Babylon), was published four years after her award-winning debut novel. And this time it is the quality of writing - expressive, sumptuous, repetitive, clammy - that takes centre stage. At the heart of the story which, despite being set in Berlin under Hitler’s rule still manages to be gentle and pleasure-seeking, lies an encounter between a delicate homosexual love and the Nazi horror.
It was a soupy, sketchy, unconscious instinct.
I woke up churned inside out from the hunger. The feeling was intense, a shudder, a sour boil that resounded like grinding mills and dried leaves scattering.
Sweat was pouring off me. I was restless, lips cracking, my palate so pasty that swallowing caused an abrasive chafe at the back of my throat.
An orgy of desires overcame me. Images of chickens sizzling in butter, bread loaves and strawberry cream, fillet steaks gleaming in their juices all floated before my eyes.
Legging it down the stairs, I slipped on an outcrop of old, ponging clothes.
The kitchen was a dark cube, punctured by occasional faint flashes, pinpricks of blue light.
I squatted, plunging into the dark stratum of the room. The larder was partly open, seductive and satanic. I reached a hand in, trembling in horror.
Groping around, I found bunches of cockroaches and an absolute dearth of food. The hand was pulled back out. Then I opened a drawer: sharp knives, rotting syringes and gauze knotted into tangles of reeking anemones. My fingers continued their desperate search while my stomach contracted with hunger pangs, nagging, mountainous hunger rising to double its original size, suffocating me.
I was so hungry I felt nauseous.
Actually, I did find a small dusty tin swaddled in a thin label that was bulging with dank bubbles. Tinned meat. With a knife I perforated the lid.
From the little hole, a strong pungent odour wafted up my nostrils. I moved away because my throat started throbbing with the retching.
At last I plucked up enough courage. The smell seemed to have eased off, dissolved like dust from the most important ancient treasures which reveal their splendour only after they’ve been opened.
Tears of joy rolled down my face as I knifed the thin lid. The tin yielded, finally defeated. Inside, the meat was sludgy, veined through with a verdigris sap, bits of it hardening in the icy process of decay and the liquefied adhesive.
I stuffed the execrable meat into my mouth and although it was a disgusting concoction that tasted like death, sewer, mud and blood, I had to admit that it had a faintly spicy aftertaste. Through pink tinted glasses, I gulped down the unseemly gunge in a frenzy, without a thought to the mouthfuls that were getting chomped under my teeth into a brackish, muddy slime.
When I finished, I was compelled by some sarcastic streak towards a vertical sliver of light. I examined the tin. Its best before date had expired three years ago. But it didn’t occur to me to panic. I started laughing instead.
I washed my hands in a basin almost as if I was guilty, as if someone might have been able to reprimand me for that act of thievery by sniffing under my nails.
Fuoco su Babilonia
pp. 358, euro 16.50