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European Literature Days 3

C J Schuler

IMG 08891 224x300 European Literature Days 3The penultimate day of the European Literature Days Festival was held in Hadersdorf, a small village in the Wachau where the Surrealist artist Daniel Spoerri has established a museum featuring his own work and that of his friend Eva Aeppli (pictured top).

Spoerri, a Romanian-German like the Nobel Prizewinner Herta Müller, entertained us with his flamboyant reminiscences of his early life as a ballet dancer in Paris and his friendship with Jean Tinguely before guiding us around the museum and out into the beautiful autumnal garden where we gathered the big walnuts that had fallen from a fine old tree.

Spoerri’s often sinister bronzes (pictured below) remind me of blackened and rusted weaponry found on a battlefield.  The memento mori was not inappropriate to the location, for the pretty square in Hadersdorf has a dark history – it was here that 33 political prisoners, making their way to Vienna after being liberated from the prison at Stein, were massacred by the SS in the closing days of the war.

IMG 0890 240x300 European Literature Days 3Afterwards we repaired to Eat Art, the café Spoerri has established nearby, to hear readings by a selection of the participating writers, including the Croatian novelist Edo Popović, the young Swiss poet Arno Camenisch, who writes in Romansh as well as German, and the Austrian Milena Michiko Flašar. The only British participant,
Bethan Roberts, read a chilling extract from her novel The Pools, while Moldovan Nicoleta Esinencu delivered a savage, expletive-spiked monologue from her award-winning play FUCK YOU, Eu.ro.Pa!, about life under communism and its aftermath.

Perhaps the most impressive, however, was the Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist Sjón, Björk’s long time collaborator, Oscar-nominated for his lyrics for Lars von Trier’s film Dancer in the Dark. He read from his fourth and latest novel The Blue Fox, a saga set in 19th century Iceland that, in its English translation by Victoria Cribb, was lauded by A S Byatt for its “brilliant, precise, concrete colour and detail”.

His stirring Icelandic cadences held us captivated, even though no one other than he understood the language. It was all the more of a pity, therefore, that the surtitle machine, of the type used for opera, struggled to keep up with the prose readings, falling a minute or more behind, even with the words whizzing past at such a speed that it was a struggle to keep up with them. It gave up the ghost altogether while the talented journalist and author Tanja Maljartschuk read from her novel Nine Percent Vinegar about damaged lives in a small Ukrainian town, so that the moderator had to step in and read an extract in German, to the relief of many.

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