Berlin Cards & Crimes — A novel-in-progress by Angela Flury
SomoS Artist-in-Residence 2017
SomoS is proud to present an audio and text excerpt of Angela Flury‘s novel-in-progress Berlin Cards & Crimes. Her text takes up themes such as translation, and the multilingual world we live in, representations of translation in literature, psychogeography and the loosely defined genre of the Berlin novel and literary notions of space, a meta-interpretation of the creative process itself, as well as a pastiche of spy fiction and crime fiction—themes which Angela Flury has previously interpreted and analyzed in academic contexts through published essays like the following:
- Reconstruction Vol. 11, No. 1, 2011: Multilingual Realities in Translation, edited by Angela Flury and Hervé Regnauld
- “Excerpt from Wach (Lucid), by Albrecht Selge [transl. Angela Flury] and “Translator’s Comments: Albrecht Selge ‘Losing Track’” in Reconstruction Vol. 14, No. 3 (2014): Special Issue: Spatial Literary Studies
- Reconstruction Vol. 13, No. 1 (2013): How Did I Write That? Reflections on Singularity in the Creative Process, edited by Alan Ramón Clinton and Angela Flury
Berlin Cards & Crimes
Chapter I. Kreuzberg
Where Johanna Meanders, Finds her Footing, Sees a Fire, and Moves on
On a Thursday at the end of September, Johanna was back in the place where people supposedly write novels, at the Rosenthaler Platz. She addressed another picture postcard to her brother Max (How many has she written already, in total?), sitting on the first floor of the café, in the alcove in the back where people are meant to mingle in groups because of the cushions, low retro tables, small chairs, whereas the lone writers with their laptops line up against the wall on a high continuous bench, across from the long counter with the cakes and the quiches, their feet resting as on a barstool, not on the floor. Upstairs there would be a view.
Despite the nice weather, the alcove was busy today. “Anybody can work for money,” a hipster said in English, addressing two girls. They hung on his lips. A well-dressed man with accented German told a group of younger men never to point their finger at a woman, and that he followed his own advice for thirty-five years, until his wife died from cancer. His logic was incomprehensible to Johanna, as were some of his words. But the man appeared to own the respect of his listeners, who nodded. A woman was being tutored by a man resembling the famous Mexican tenor whose voice periodically gives out. Earnest and erect, she read aloud phrases from a deck of index cards, repeated each one several times, but try as Johanna might, she could not discern which language the woman was learning, for her heavy German accent and the noise in the café made her words indistinguishable.
Soon after Johanna’s arrival in Berlin, it had fallen to her to translate a novel about a compulsive, aimless walker in a nameless city barely recognizable as Berlin. The translation was slow-going. The small-time publisher paid by the word, according to calculations she made no effort to understand. Sitting now in the alcove, in her meticulously playful way she magnified some of the words on the page in front of her by seeing each one as an entity. The Schandfleck in the very first section of Albrecht Selge’s novel was posing problems. As the proper name of the only remaining dive bar on an otherwise sanitized block, its English translation into eyesore could not do justice to the more literal stain of shame, so it had to be left standing as it was, untranslated, as Schandfleck (with a footnote to clarify the compounded double meaning), in any case a reminder to American readers that they are in another country and that though August, the novel’s protagonist, wanders mostly in the dark, he does so in the aftermath of the transformation following the events of 1989 and among the ensuing constructions and reconstructions meant to cancel out the city’s previous division into East and West. In the hustle and bustle of erasing any abiding effects of the Wall, crumbling plaster had become increasingly a thing of the past. Johanna could not but hear the conversations in the alcove of the Unterholz the way August, the novel’s protagonist, hears into the voices of the people in the Schandfleck: “He closes his eyes and tries to lift himself from the room around him, from the smells and the murmurs. But the opposite happens: by trying to hear above the muttering, he only hears into it, or it enters him as an empty receptacle; in the hitherto formless noise, words and scraps of sentences form themselves, he is pulled into the conversations at the tables close to him.” What followed August’s attempts in the novel to rise above the cacophony of his surroundings were conversational fragments strung together without punctuation and running over almost a full page, like those in Apollinaire’s famous poem where the poet’s sitting in a café and overhearing the talk at neighboring tables created the consciousness of a cosmopolitan simultaneity that a century ago was all the rage. The strain to hear could wear you out, Johanna, who was fond of spy fiction, thought. She pictured herself behind enemy lines, slowly turning the dial of an old radio, her ear close to the fabric-covered speaker box, trying to tune in the voice that might return her to safety (yet possibly give her away).
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Copyright Angela Flury 2014-2018. All rights reserved.
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