The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi-Iran), translated by Anonymous, Europa Editions
Beeta says that Mum attained enlightenment at exactly 2:35 p.m. on August 18, 1988, atop the grove’s tallest greengage plum tree on a hill overlooking all fifty-three village houses, to the sound of the scrubbing of pots and pans, which pulled the grove out of its lethargy every afternoon. At that very moment, blindfolded and hands tied behind his back, Sohrab was hanged. He was hanged without trial, and unaware he would be buried en masse with hundreds of other political prisoners early the next morning in a long pit in the deserts south of Tehran, without any indication or marker lest years later a relative would come and tap a pebble on a headstone and murmur there is no god but God.1
Beeta says Mum came down from the tallest greengage tree and, without looking at Beeta who was filling her skirt with sour greengages, walked towards the forest saying, “This whole thing is not at all as I’d thought”. Beeta wanted Mum to explain, but Mum, as though mesmerised like someone with forest fever—what I call forest melancholia—walked with a steady step and hollow gaze into the forest to climb up the tallest oak where she sat on its highest bough for three days and three nights in the sun, rain, moonlight, and fog, looking with bewilderment at the life she was seeing for the first time.
The Adventures of China Iron, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Spanish-Argentina), translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh, Charco Press
It was the brightness of the light. The young pup, radiating life, was scampering excitedly between the dusty sore paws of the few dogs left round there. Poverty yields cracked skin. It carves and slowly scrapes away at its young, and leaves them to fend for themselves in all weathers. It makes skin dry, leathery, and scarred, and forces its offspring into unwonted shapes. But not yet the pup: it radiated sheer delight at being alive and gave off a light undimmed by the dingy sadness of a poverty that, I’m sure, as much a lack of ideas as anything else.
We didn’t often go hungry, but everything was grey and dusty, everything was so drab that when I saw the pup I knew in an instant what I wanted for myself: something radiant. It wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen a young creature, after all I’d already given birth to two children, and it’s not as if the pampa never shone. It became dazzling with the rains, reawakened even as it was flooded. No longer flat, it heaved with grain, tents, Indians on the move, white women escaping from captivity, horse swmimming with their gaucho riders still astride, while all around the dorado fish darted like lightning into the depths, into the middle of the bursting river. And in each fragment of that river that was devouring its own banks, a bit of sky was reflected. It didn’t seem real to witness such a thing, to see the whole world being dragged along, slowly spiralling, muddy and dizzying, a hundred leagues away to the sea.
Tyll, Daniel Kehlmann (Germany-German), translated by Ross Benjamin, Quercus
The war had not yet come to us. We lived in fear and hope and tried not to draw God’s wrath down upon our securely walled town, with its hundred and five houses and the church and the cemetery, where our ancestors waited for the Day of Resurrection.
We prayed often to keep the war away. We prayed to the Almighty and to the kind Virgin. We prayed to the Lady of the Forest and to the Little People of Midnight, to Saint Gerwin, to Peter the gatekeeper, to John the Evangelist—and to be safe we also prayed to Old Mela, who during the Twelve Nights, when the demons are let loose, roams the heavens at the head of her retinue. We prayed to the Horned Ones of ancient days and to Bishop Martin, who shared his cloak with the beggar when the latter was freezing, so that they they were then both freezing and pleasing to God, for what’s the use of half a cloak in winter, and of course we prayed to Saint Maurice, who had chosen death with a whole legion rather than betray his faith in the one just God.
Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor (Spanish-Mexico), translated by Sophie Hughes, Fitzcarraldo Editions
They reached the canal along the track leading up from the river, their slingshots drawn for battle and their eyes squinting, almost stitched together, in the midday glare. There were five of them, their ringleader the only one in swimming trunks: red shorts that blazed behind the parched crops of the cane fields, still low in early May. The rest of the troop trailed behind him in their underpants, all four caked in mud up to their shins, all four taking turns to carry the pail of small rocks they’d taken from the river that morning; all four scowling and fierce and so ready to give themselves up for the cause that not even the youngest, bringing up the rear, would have dared admit he was scared, the elastic of his slingshot pulled taut in his hands, the rock snug in the leather pad, primed to strike anything that got in his way at the very first sign of an ambush, be that the caw of the bienteveo, perched unseen like a guard in the trees behind them, the rustle of leaves being thrashed aside, or the whoosh of a rock cleaving the air just beyond their noses, the breeze warm and the almost white sky thick with ethereal birds of prey and a terrible smell that hit them harder than a fistful of sand in the face, a stench that made them want to hawk it up before it reached their guts, that made them want to stop and turn round. But the ringleader pointed to the edge of the cattle track, and all five of them, crawling along the dry grass, all five of them packed together in a single body, all five of them surrounded by blow flies, finally recognized what was peeping out from the yellow foam on the water’s surface: the rotten face of a corpse floating among the rushes and the plastic bags swept in from the road on the breeze, the dark mask seething under a myriad of black snakes, smiling.
The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa (Japanese-Japan), translated by Stephen Snyder, published by Harvill Secker
“I sometimes wonder what was disappeared first – among all the things that have vanished from the island.
“Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here,” my mother used to tell me when I was still a child. “Transparent things, fragrant things…fluttery ones, bright ones…wonderful things you can’t possibly imagine.
“It’s a shame that the people who live here haven’t been able to hold such marvelous things in their hearts and minds, but that’s just the way it is on this island. Things go on disappearing, one by one. It won’t be long now,” she added. “You’ll see for yourself. Something will disappear from your life.”
“Is it scary?” I asked her, suddenly anxious.
“No, don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt, and you won’t even be particularly sad. One morning you’ll simply wake up and it will be over, before you’ve even realized. Lying still, eyes closed, ears pricked, trying to sense the flow of the morning air, you’ll feel that something has changed from the night before, and you’ll know that you’ve lost something, that something has been disappeared from the island.”
The Discomfort of Evening, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch-Netherlands), translated by Michele Hutchison, published by Faber & Faber
I was ten and stopped taking off my coat. That morning, Mum had covered us one by one in udder ointment to protect us from the cold. It came out of a yellow Bogena tin and was normally used to prevent dairy cows’ teats from getting cracks, calluses and cauliflower-like lumps. The tin’s lid was so greasy you could only screw it off with a tea-towel. It smelled of stewed udder, the thick slices I’d sometimes find cooking in a pan of stock on our stove, sprinkled with salt and pepper. They filled me with horror, just like the reeking ointment on my skin. Mum pressed her fat fingers into our faces like the round cheeses she patted to check whether the rind was ripening. Our pale cheeks shone in the light of the kitchen bulb, which was encrusted with fly shit. For years we’d been planning to get a lampshade, a pretty one with flowers, but whenever we saw one in the village, Mum could never make up her mind. She’d been doing this for three years now. That morning, two days before Christmas, I felt her slippery thumbs in my eye sockets and for a moment I was afraid she’d press too hard, that my eyeballs would plop into my skull like marbles, and she’d say, “That’s what happens when your eyes are always roaming and you never keep them still like a true believer, gazing up at God as though the heavens might break open any moment.” But the heavens here only broke open for a snowstorm—nothing to keep staring at like an idiot.