for Arnost Lustig
It’s swift, this exorbitant ripple of Rs: the sound
to a British ear is something, roughly, like
RORE-RAYS said fast as a bird. Trying out an odd word
of yours, my tongue feels as if it’s been arrested
lurching, without papers, down a scarred road
somewhere in the old centre of Europe.
But when I hear you in full cry after a story that’s
getting away like a fox through the woods
in Bohemia, your language sounds chock-a-block with
grotesque swishes, lock-jaw Spritzfahrt gurgles,
as if Gulliver’s Travels were yarned in some eldritch lingo
still vivid to our foreign ears. And with stories
like yours, that’s not a bad name to conjure, Maestro
of all the arts of, somehow, getting out from under
(Theresienstadt, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and again
in Prague in’ 68 when Pravda came grinding through
Wenceslas Square, making proposals with tanks).
But even a tireless tale-teller at the top of the class
must sleep (okay, so that was Homer!), and I imagine you
flying high over the Atlantic, Prof, en route
for Voshing’DC, forced even now to dream of what
your next meal might be. ‘Fighters! Fellow writers!’
(Excited, your brows go into furrows like one of
Huss’s diacritics ...) ‘Let us have more – immediately!
This black pudding is so good!’ You know how Satire comes
from satura, the Romans’ rich and crazy mixture?
‘Such is Life!’ you keep telling us. So if we cook it right,
that is, with care, and luck, it may give us all
a taste for truth. At last you’re silent, intently
dozing on the wing. They will not forget you, your friends
on the island here (it’s just a small place, far off
in Europe, remember ... no longer of any great
consequence); and won’t forget you roaring ‘What
can you do in this bloody life but laugh
when your name means “Seriously Happy”!’ Earnest
lusty friend, I’ve got it now – it’s R-R-ROAR, ACE!
I’ll say it till I get it clear, loud enough for you
and Vera to hear me sending back your Czech for SWIFT!
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