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“Hello, my name is Péter Zilahy and you’re going to hear a short excerpt from my novel, The Last Window Giraffe.
Bath time was during the news. Every now and then mother would look in to see if I was all right. Dad was watching TV in the living room. To protect me from the lies they had to know the details. I could hear mother sighing – what a mess I was making, I’m flooding the apartment. I dived down. Under the water I heard a voice telling me what had happened in the world that day: a landslide killed a hundred and fifty people in Bangladesh, a revolution broke out in West Africa, a new kindergarten and an Olympic swimming pool were opened, and MTK beat Fradi 2-1. I had no idea who was sending the messages, or why, but clearly they had plans for me, because they also told me what the weather was going to be like. The following day I could distinguish several voices in the tub, which pointed towards an organization. This manner of communication seemed logical. I couldn’t send them messages, because you can’t talk under water, and they could only get in touch with me without my parents and teachers knowing during my bath time. I didn’t understand why it was so important for the organization that I should have detailed information on the latest war games in Poland, or which Transdanubian towns were being granted city status, but I knew that if I paid attention, sooner or later I’d be given a sign. My life gained a deeper meaning under water. When one Sunday mother was washing my hair and, unsuspecting, she pushed my head into the water, a pleasant female voice whispered in my ear that the harvest had been flattened by hail. I knew immediately what was expected of me, and to be honest, I had no objections: to make a big mess. Even before then, I used to battle submarines and fighter planes in the dark, after going to bed, and sometimes I would end up on the floor, so it was only due to my dogged persistence that in the end the victory was mine. From that day on, I sabotaged the development of our people’s democracy like a busy honey-bee. Earthquakes, power failures and gas explosions marked my way. I would figure out the location of military objectives on the basis of intelligence I received in the bathtub. When a factory or a power plant was inaugurated, I would be there, doing what I had to do. Comecon fiddled at repairs behind the Iron Curtain, little suspecting that a stone was being thrown inside the glass house.”
Translated by Tim Wilkinson
ABOUT PETER ZILAHY
Péter Zilahy was born in 1970 in Budapest, Hungary, but now lives in Berlin. He is currently Writer-in-Residence at Varuna and performed his work at Varuna on Saturday 28th January (Support for this reading was provided by the Hungarian Belletristic Society)
His prose and poetry are widely translated and he often performs on stage, combining photography and interactive media in his work. His collection of poems, Statue Under a White Sheet Ready to Jump, was published in 1993 and won the Móricz Zsigmond Prize. His dictionary novel, The Last Window Giraffe, was published in 1998 and has since been translated into 22 languages and become a cult novel. It has won multiple awards including ‘The Book of the Year Prize’ in Ukraine, and has been adapted into an interactive CD-ROM and a live stage performance. It directly influenced the Orange Revolution, when activists in Kiev used the book to stage events on the streets. Since 1998 Zilahy has been senior editor of The World Literature Series, first at Jak Books and later at Gondolat Publishers. In 2001 he was a visiting scholar at New York University. He regularly publishes his essays in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in the Tagesspiegel, Die Welt, The Guardian, The Financial Times and most recently in the New York Times.
Statue Under a White Sheet Ready to Jump, 1993 (poetry)
The Last Window Giraffe, 1998 (novel)
The Last Window Giraffe CD-Rom
Drei, 2003 (prose)
Three Plus 1, 2007 (several genres)
Der lange Weg nach nebenan, 2007 (theatre play)
Regular essays in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Tagesspiegel, Die Welt, The Guardian, The Financial Times and the New York Times. Most recently, in January 2012, “The Aftertaste of Goulasch Communism”.
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