Saturday, May 24, 2008

The mysteries of adulthood through the eyes of a child (How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Sasa Stanisic)

Greetings from Marion, OH, as good a setting as any to continuing to enjoy Sasa Stanisic's How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone. Aleksandar attends the funeral of his grandfather, a party member during Tito's Communist government in Yugoslavia. It's his intention to revive his granfather with magic at some opportune moment during the funeral:

The speeches begin, the speeches go on and on, the speeches are never going to end, and I don't want to interrupt anyone making a speech with my magic spells, that would be rude. I'm sweating. The sun is blazing down; cicadas are chirping. Uncle Bora mops the sweat off his face with a pale blue handkerchief. I mop my forehead with my sleeve. Once I secretly watched a funeral where there weren't any long, boring speeches, just a short incomprehensible one. A bearded man wearing a woman's dress sang and waved a golden ball about on the end of a chain. Smoke was coming out of the ball, and death smelled of green tea. Later I found out that the man was a priest. We don't have priests - the people who make speeches at our funerals are sixty years old with badges on their breast pockets. No one tells any jokes. They all praise Grandpa, often saying exactly the same thing, as if they'd been copying from each other. They sound like women praising the virtues of a cake. As the dead can't hear anymore when they're in the ground, the last thing they hear up here ought to make them feel good. But correct as my grandpa was, he would always put anyone who tried sweet-talking him right. No, Comrade Poljo, he would say, I have not been busy reforming our country every single day, last Friday I did nothing at all to lower the rate of inflation, I slept in late on Saturday instead of going ahead to implement the plan in our regional collectives, and on Sunday's I go walking with my grandson the magician.

I love the irony Stanisic finds in juxtaposing the child's wish to revive his grandpa with a magic wand - with the adults own magical ceremonies - whether in religion or party politics - they are equally mysterious to Aleksandar. Stanisic's vision of childhood is fantastical and at times funny but very real - not cute.

Someday, when I'm as old as my great-grandpa Nikola, I will have set sail in a ship, I'll have met a liar and left him an honest man, I'll have persuaded a donkey to go the way I want, and I'll have sung like Great-Grandpa, with a voice as powerful as a mountain range, a ship, the habit of honest and a donkey all rolled in together.

Admirable wish as any for a fruitful adulthood. When I grow up I hope I might do the same.


Eva said...

Those passages are great! Thanks for sharing. :) And have fun in Ohio!

Anonymous said...

My goodness. What a dear book. I'm sorry to say I've never heard of it, or the author. So thank you very much. I hope your time in Ohio is marvelous and that you get some well deserved R and R.