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Weekend Reading: Laundry

By David Varno

Words Without Borders Weekend Reading At the week's end, here's hope that attention will continue in the English-language world for Israeli novelist Suzane Adam. She has published four books since 2000 and won the Kugel Prize in 2006 and the Prime Minister's Prize in 2007, but only her first novel, Kvisa (Laundry), has been translated. Laundry was published last year by Autumn Hill Books, following a German translation in 2003.

This past September, Words Without Borders published an excerpt from the novel, translated by Becka Mary McKay, and Diana Thow's review followed. Her synopsis filled in a background for the book that further complicated the excerpt's mysterious, fairy tale-esque anecdote.

In addition, it just came to our attention that Zeek, the culture blog for Jewcy, also ran an excerpt of McKay's translation last year. Translations editor Adam Rovner wrote, "only by understanding her painful past can the narrator make sense of the mystery of her Israeli present."

And just this past April, 3 Percent published a glowing review of the novel. Perhaps we'll see another translation soon? Here's a synopsis of her second novel, Mayamia, hosted by The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.

I haven't read Laundry yet, but after reading these two excerpts I can hardly wait. The tension in Adam's tone between frank and submissive is reminiscent of Janet Frame, and the novel seems to have many layers to unpeel. The following paragraphs are from the excerpt run by Zeek, and exhibit the narrator Ildiko's childhood fear of the slaughterhouse, the horror of which she was shown by an older girl at an early age:

The next day, after I'd fainted once more, I was taken away to a hospital that specialized in children's diseases. My mother bundled me up in a fur jacket that barely buttoned over my woolen underwear and two sweaters. My father's thick scarf was wrapped around my head, I wore flannel pajama bottoms under my itchy wool pants that I hated, plus gloves and boots. I sat like that on the edge of the kitchen chair, my body sealed up, beads of sweat dripping from my forehead and blurring my vision, waiting for Pishta, Bijou's father, to come with the slaughterhouse truck.

The slaughterhouse truck was coming for me, I was sick, the sick went to the slaughterhouse. Even though I recognized it, its color, the sound of its engine, and even though Pishta, my best friend's father, sat in the driver's seat, and even though my mother stood anxiously at the open door of the truck's cab, and even though the truck seemed to be innocent of anything wicked and evil, I refused to climb in and sit on the bouncy, brown leather seat. Bijou's mother held my crying sister on her hip, comforting her. All the children were at school, the neighbors were busy. The street was white except for the tire tracks of the snowplows, whose blades had turned the white snow into a brownish porridge. I saw footprints people had left on the sidewalk, big and small, blurred, deep. My mother was getting angry, Pishta was in a hurry, and again I felt as though I were about to take flight. Before I collapsed again I had enough time to look at the roof of my family's house melting into the branches of the tree that stood like a naked sentry.

Published Jun 26, 2009   Copyright 2009 David Varno

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