Sunday, August 14, 2011

The seduction of boys iv: the gossamer-fine thread

Dmitry Petrovich had begun to take aim, and for a second everything had disappeared. There was no granite sky, no red lingonberries - nothing but two eyes, turned toward him. The elk was looking at him. He was, after all, the sole witness of the disaster that had that morning befallen her.

And with a sense of strength and happiness, with a hunter's accurate premonition of a fine shot, taking care not to disturb the gosammer-fine thread linking him and his target, he pressed slowly and smoothly on the trigger. 

Then, going up to the elk he had shot, Dmitry Petrovich realised what had happened. Her calf had damaged a front leg - it was caught in the split trunk of a fallen alder tree, and the calf was evidently terrified of being abandoned. Even after the shot, even after the mother had fallen to the ground, the calf had gone on trying to persuade her not to abandon him - and she had not abandoned him.

The writer is the great epistolary witness to the warfare between the Soviet Union and Germany in the 1940s; this story is from an invaluable collection of his fiction, essays, and journalism. An occasion he didn't witness, but whose remnants were scattered ubiquitously before him, was the ballistically meticulous judeocide of his entire home town, Berdichev, in the Ukraine, whence he deduced the disap-pearance of his mother by the shawl left on her chair.

This is not a page to be illustrated by artifacts. There will be no painter's impression of the Goyesquerie of the occasion, or snapshot souvenir inva-sions of the privacy of death. They simply cannot do what Grossman has done, to vitiate the illusion in any premonition that there can ever be, a fine shot. The courage of maternity is his profoundest rebuttal, and it is unanswerable; there is only lewd tran-sitory advantage. But then he follows that thread where it visibly draws itself: to the calf who was corrupted, with a sense of strength and happiness.

Vasily Grossman
The Road: Stories,
  Journalism and Essays
    The Elk, 1954-55
Robert and Elizabeth Chandler,
  and Olga Mukovnikova, translation
New York Review Books, 2010©

i         Lasse Pedersen
ii        Mathias Lauridsen
iv, v   Thomas Andreasson

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