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Ljuba Arnautovic: Junischnee.

de     en     fr     es     sr

June Snow. Novel.
Vienna: Zsolnay, 2021.

192 pages; EUR 22,70.
ISBN 978-3-552-07224-4.

Ljuba Arnautovic

Review

Excerpt:

Nina still calls her husband by the name he went by when she met him in the prison camp – Viktor. It’s really hard for her see him not as a Russian, but as a foreigner, a "German" at that. It hasn’t been a whole year since he arrived in Kursk after his release from the Gulag. Only two days later, Karl had already started working at the sawmill. After a love-filled summer, they went to the civil registry office and took the first available date. The groom was the only foreigner at the wedding. In his free time, he converted Nina’s childhood home, where she lived with her mother Anastasia ever since her siblings married up, so that the young couple had a room of their own. He patched up the derelict roof and in the summer and fall he canned huge amounts of fruit and vegetables with his mother-in-law and stored them in the root cellar. The man had energy to spare. And he knew hunger.
The intervals between contractions are still long. Nina is fearless. She has been instructed in lectures and is prepared. When a contraction comes, she stops walking, presses her hands against her lower back and looks down the path at the distance she’s covered. She’s still on flat land, the ascent only starts across the river. Her childhood home is in a valley that, although it’s been incorporated into the city and isn’t far from the center of town, is like a village. Because of the annual floods, the administration thought it unnecessary to pave the streets or put in a sewage system. The one thing they did do recently was to hook up the houses to the grid; the electric lines swing through the air in a rhythm dictated by the high poles of raw, still blond wood, which proclaim Lenin’s aphorism about electrification and Socialism.
The contractions stop and Nina continues on her way. Her destination is at the top of the wide main street. City Hall, the post office, two department stores, and a hotel are grouped around the wide "Red Square" with a statue of Lenin. The birthing clinic, a two-story building painted light green with white window frames is set back a bit, in the middle of a small park. She’s been inside the building often in the past few months to get check-ups and be instructed.
By the time the next contraction begins, Nina’s arrived at the small bridge. She holds on tight to the wooden handrail and looks down. It’s impossible to tell where the river ends, the water is just as frozen as the embankment. This river divides city and country, which are like two worlds. Her child should be born in the new world, wrapped in sterile cloth under medical supervision. Nina is a modern Soviet woman. She is proud of her country’s achievements. It means nothing to her that she is the first daughter in a line of first daughters. What her grandmother Yevgenia and her mother Anastasia call her "sign", is an ordinary mole to Nina.
The ascent begins right after the wooden bridge, at the highest point sits the church. Inside it, machinery is stored from the sawmill that was built on the land of the former cloister. In the summer it smells like motor oil and wood. Nina knows that her child will be baptized in secret. Her mother grew up in the pre-revolutionary era, she is religious and superstitious; some think she’s a healer, others, a witch. We, the new generation, will let her have her way, thinks Nina, let her bring the baby to the priest, who will fill his kitchen sink with warm water from the municipal pipes and add a few drops of holy water from a small bottle. He’ll allow her grandmother to check the temperature with her elbow before he immerses her grandchild three times while singing incantations in an old language. Before he does that, he’ll use scissors to cut off the ends of a few soft baby hairs, to remove the evil that the newborn human has brought to Earth from that other, dark actuality. Lacking the altar room behind which the baptized child’s devil’s hair should be hidden, he’ll put the snippets into a small box and wait until other times begin anew. Nina smiles. It certainly won’t harm her child.

p. 112-114

© 2021, Zsolnay Verlag, Vienna.
© English translation: Laura Radosh, 2021

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