Monday, May 12, 2008

Culture Break: "To This Day"

Commentary magazine has performed a literary service by publishing the first seven chapters of S.Y. Agnon's novel To This Day. The entire novel will be published for the first time in English later this month by Toby Press.

Consider the first paragraph:

During the Great War, I lived in the west of Berlin, in a room with a balcony in a small boarding house on Fasanenstrasse. The room was small, too, as was the balcony, but for someone like me whose needs were few it was a place to live. Not once during my stay there did I speak to the landlady or the other boarders. Every morning a chambermaid brought me a cup of coffee and two or three slices of bread, and once a week she brought the bill, which grew larger as the slices of bread grew smaller and the coffee lost its taste. I left the rent on the tray with a tip for her. She knew I didn’t like small talk and came and went without a word. Once, however, she forgot herself and stayed to chat a bit about the boarding house. Its landlady, Frau Trotzmüller, was a widow whose husband had been killed in a duel, leaving her with three daughters and a son, her youngest child, who had disappeared at the front. No one knew if he had been killed or taken prisoner. Despite all the family’s efforts to trace him, nothing was known of his fate. Multitudes of soldiers were dead, captured, or missing in action; who could locate a single mother’s son, a speck of dust swept away by the winds of war? Frau Trotzmüller and her daughters didn’t impose their grief on their boarders, and their boarders didn’t inquire about young Trotzmüller. Everyone had his own troubles; no one had time for anyone else’s. It was only because I was a poor sleeper that I heard the grieving mother sobbing for her son at night.

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