Monday, November 30, 2015

Only This Silence

Days in the History of Silence by Merethe Lindstrøm

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

                                                                           Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“Some days I cannot remember the distinctive character his voice had, whether it was as deep as I believe, I cannot imagine it.  His silence.” So broods the narrator, Eva, about her increasingly estranged husband, Simon, in this intimate and haunting tale about the ineluctable wages of the past.

Set in contemporary Norway, Eva, a teacher, and her husband, Simon, a respected physician, have led a life with their children that has all the hallmarks of modern, middle class success. While as imperfect as every family, not a one of this family’s members has ever wanted for anything—except perhaps for the truth, the truth about Simon’s past.

It began with some letters arriving, several letters. He [Simon] found out more about what happened to his relatives during the war, almost all his relations apart from his mother, father and brother were sent to extermination camps in the course of the war years… The others are crossed out of history.

Instead of sharing this information with their daughters when their daughters were young, Eva and Simon, unwilling to ruffle the still waters of their otherwise tranquil life together, put it off for another time, a time that—no surprise—never comes. By then, by the period in which the novel takes place, the past has already wreaked havoc on their lives, taking its mute if insidious toll on their hearts, their psyches, their nerves. Thinks Eva, “It is surprisingly easy not to say anything, not to tell, to remain silent.”
Yet in the end it is their very silence that haunts them in their alienation from their now-grown children and in their alienation from each other. So still, so cold, so silent is the house they share, that sometimes Eva thinks she hears her husband speak:
Perhaps I hear him from the living  room, and I go in, and he is sitting with his  
      eyes closed.
I hear his voice, because I want to hear it, a hallucination of sound, like an echo of
      music or noise than lingers when you have been to a party or concert and return 
      home, as though  the brain continues to transmit the sound, as though the inner ear
      continues to repeat  the oscillations, in the place where sound is converted and
      interpreted as something meaningful.

As Simon sinks further and further into the tragic silence of his past, the most Eva can hope for is the truth—grim, unforgiving, as that may be. “Like the story about two trolls,” she reflects sadly, “…the one says something, then a hundred years pass, and the other one replies.”

Merethe Lindstrøm has published several collections of short stories, novels, and a children’s book. She lives in Oslo, Norway. Days in the History of Silence was translated by Anne Bruce. 

Peter Adam Nash

1 comment:

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