Ivan Vladislavić: The Folly

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Ivan Vladislavić The Folly
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    The Folly
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The Folly: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A vacant patch of South African veld next to the comfortable, complacent Malgas household has been taken over by a mysterious, eccentric figure with "a plan." Fashioning his tools out of recycled garbage, the stranger enlists Malgas's help in clearing the land and planning his mansion. Slowly but inevitably, the stranger's charm and the novel's richly inventive language draws Malgas into "the plan" and he sees, feels and moves into the new building. Then, just as remorselessly, all that seemed solid begins to melt back into air.

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Ivan Vladislavić

The Folly

Nieuwenhuizen stood on the verge, in the darkness, looking down the street. In one hand he held a brown imitationleather portmanteau; in the other some small, cold coins given to him by a taxi-driver moments before. The tail-lights of the taxi flared up at the end of the street, and vanished.

Nieuwenhuizen turned to the plot. It was smaller than he’d been led to believe, no more than an acre, and overgrown with tall grass and weeds. The land was bounded on two sides by an unruly hedge, breaking against the night sky, and on a third by a prefabricated cement wall with panels in the shape of wagon-wheels. The fourth side, where he found himself, had once been fenced off from the street: the remains of this frontier — crumpled scrolls of barbed wire, a gate, some clubfooted wooden posts in concrete boots — lay all around. He tightened his grip on his change with one hand and on the sponge-swaddled handle of his portmanteau with the other, high-stepped over a tangle of wire, and pushed through the grass, onwards.

Sour dust burst from the brittle stems he felled and crushed with his boots. Breathing the dust down, salivating, swallowing, he fixed his eyes on the horizon and forged ahead. After a while he stumbled over an anthill. It seemed a pity to waste this discovery, so he stood on top of the hill and turned his face ceremoniously to the four corners of his inheritance. It was a big face, with a crack of a mouth and a stump of a nose, with unfathomable sockets, craggy brows and a bulging forehead dented in the middle, altogether suited to the play of moonlight and shade. His survey revealed a single tree in the elbow of the hedge, and he chose that spot for his camp.

Nieuwenhuizen hung his scarf on a thorn. Then he sat on his portmanteau under the tree and looked expectantly at the bloodshot windows of the house behind the wagon-wheel wall.In the lounge of this house Mr and Mrs Malgas, the owners, were watching the eight o’clock news on television.

“Here we go again,” said Mr Malgas when the unrest report began, and he turned the sound off by remote control.

At that very moment there appeared on the screen a burning shanty made of split poles, cardboard boxes and off-cuts of chipboard, and patched with newspaper and plastic bags. It was hemmed in on all sides by a great many shanties just like it, except that, for one reason or another, none of these others were burning.

“This is nothing,” Mrs Malgas said gloomily. “Just you wait. The worst is yet to come.”

Whereupon she darted out of her Gomma Gomma armchair, snatched Mr’s plate from his TV tray, swept two vertebrae off it into a smudge of fat on her own plate, rattled two knives and smote them down ostentatiously, gnashed two forks with shreds of mutton and grains of rice caught between their teeth, dropped crumpled serviettes on top of the wreckage, slid the empty plate underneath the full one, set both down on the coffee-table and returned to her seat (in one florid motion).

“Where is everybody?” Mr asked.

The shack was still burning. Tattered curtains of flame blew out of the windows and columns of smoke rose from holes in the walls where the patches had burnt away. The smoke went straight up into the heavens. The image blurred and vibrated, then composed itself again. Next, the roof, which was made of corrugated iron and weighted with stones, brought the entire structure crashing down in a silent outburst of sparks and embers. Among the charred boards the camera disclosed an iron bedstead, the red-hot spirals of an inner-spring mattress, and a padlocked tin trunk. Then it pointed out a pair of smouldering boots.

Mrs Malgas stared at the boots.

Mr Malgas, who owned a hardware shop, focused on one of the corrugated sheets and remarked, “Beautiful piece of iron.”


While he was trying to gather kindling in the dark, Nieuwenhuizen tripped over his anthill again and measured his length on the ground. As he was picking himself up his hand chanced to fall on an object concealed in the grass. He extricated it excitedly. It was an old oil drum, twenty-five litres approx., hacked open crudely at one end, somewhat distended at the other. He shook some sand and grass out of it, clamped it under one arm and thumped its bottom into shape with his fist. He tilted it in the moonlight. For all its blemishes, it seemed brim-full of potential — a smidgen of which he was pleased to realize immediately: he carried his paltry collection of twigs in it as he tramped back to camp.

It would be pleasant to sit on a stone, he thought, but he couldn’t find one of the right shape or size, so he up-ended the drum and sat on that instead. He swept together a pile of dry leaves. Then he shuffled the twigs into a faggot and broke them in half.

The splintering of the wood made him suppose, for an instant, that he was breaking his own fingers into kindling, and the idea made him queasy. He flourished his hands to see whether they were still in working order. Reassured, he raked the scattered metacarpi and phalanges into a nest and dropped a match on them.

The frog squatted in a milky pool at the bottom of the mug, staring up with one glassy eye. Mr Malgas spooned instant-coffee granules over it and scalded it with boiling water. It didn’t bat an eyelid.

The frog-mug had been bought at a sale of factory rejects, and for that reason it was Mrs Malgas’s favourite, warts and all. Mr Malgas thought it was in bad taste. He stirred the coffee, scraping the frog on the murky bottom maliciously with the spoon. He fished the teabag out of his own mug, which was chocolate-brown and had I♥ DIY printed on it in biscuit. He thought this one was gimmicky too, but it had been a Father’s Day present from his spouse and he used it out of a sense of duty. He squashed the bag flat against the spoon with his thumb to extract the essence of the flavour and dropped it in the bin next to the stove. He jammed one forefinger through the thick ears of both mugs, scooped up three buttermilk rusks — one for the Mrs and two for himself — and switched off the kitchen light with his elbow.

In the darkness, in the doorway, an unaccustomed smell prickled his nostrils. Drums boomed. A burning shack caved in, predictably, in the back of his mind. He sniffed, filtering the intruder from the haze of home cooking and pine-scented air-freshener.



He put everything down again and wiped a porthole in the misted

glass of the window above the sink. Nieuwenhuizen’s fire waved its small hands in the far corner of the plot next door. An intimate relationship between the flames and his own palm circling on the glass came unbidden into Mr Malgas’s mind and caused a shameful pang in his chest.“Mrs!”

She recognized the tone: summonsing. It was the one he used when he wanted her to drop what she was doing and hasten into his presence, when he needed her to bear witness to one of his trivial observations. What could it be this time? A rusk with a human profile? Something beastly in the milk? A bubble on the end of the tap? A cobweb? A stick-insect on the outside of the glass?“ Mrs!”

There was a note of urgency in his voice. Perhaps he’d snagged his pullover on something? But as usual she mumbled, “Ja.”

“Come here a second.”

“Coming.” An actress Mrs had seen before playing a victim in a human drama looked at her through the bottom of a mixing-bowl and assured her that it was clean. Mrs rose resentfully and went to the kitchen.

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