Isabell Serafin is a screenwriter and film producer. She blogs about film, literature, and music. She writes (and occasionally publishes) fiction.
For us Europeans, going back to the family home represents a certain value which exists in our traditions, in our history and also in our culture. You can find it in the Odyssey, and literature, theatre and art throughout the ages have very often taken up the subject of the family home as a place which constitutes a set of values…the family home is an essential point in our lives. Americans don’t understand this notion. I don’t understand America but I tried to figure out what lay at the bottom of this, and I remembered a certain story.
…Flying to America. Sitting next to me is this guy. Well, I want to take a nap or read a book and not talk to the guy but unfortunately, he was talkative…and started up a conversation. ‘What do you do,’ he says. ‘I make films,’ I say. He says, ‘That’s very interesting.’ I say, ‘Yes, it is.’ He says, ‘I make windows, you know.’ ‘That’s very interesting,’ I say. ‘Yes, yes,’ he says, ‘incredibly interesting. ‘I was being sarcastic, of course, but he took me literally and started telling me this story. It turned out that he manufactured windows in Germany. He’s a German. We didn’t have any problems understanding each other because his English was just like mine. It was much easier to talk to him than to an American or Englishman.
And what happens in the story? He is going to America just like me.Well, this guy has the biggest and best window factories in Germany. They make the best windows. They sell the windows in Germany with quite a high price and a fifty-year guarantee. Of course, the Germans happily buy them because, being practical, they think that if something has a fifty-year guarantee on it, then it won’t break for fifty years. Because this guy’s the best window manufacturer in Germany, like every European who has excelled in something, he wants to do the same in America. So he opened a factory in America. And he says to me, ‘look, I opened this factory, I make really fantastic windows, I tell you. I made out a fifty-year guarantee. I set a price. Nobody wanted to buy the windows. Nobody. Simply nobody. I put a lot of money into advertising – newspapers, television, whatever. I sent out leaflets. I sent out catalogs, whatever you can think of. But nobody wanted to buy these windows. So I lowered the guarantee to twenty years but left the same price. And listen, they started to buy the windows. I lowered the guarantee to ten years. Left the same price. They started to buy four times the number of windows. Right now, I’m going to Amerca to buy a second factory and lower the guarantee to five years. The price is going to stay the same. They’re buying the windows. Why are they buying windows with a five-year guarantee and not a fifty-year guarantee? Because they just can’t imagine sitting in one place for fifty years. It’s inconceivable to them.’
Sometimes I want an opening to slap me in the face; other times I’d rather it come on like a creepy hand across my shoulder. There are millions of ways a voice can convince me to listen, but there are even more ways it can fail. I have little patience for the latter. Life is not long enough to ingest sub-par art.
We are on our way to Budapest. Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me. We are going even though we are not allowed to cross Mizilikazi Road, even though Bastard is supposed to be watching his sister Fraction, even though Mother would kill me dead if she found out; we are just going.
From We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo
‘Quite like old times’, the room says. ‘Yes? No?’
There are two beds, a big one for madame and a smaller one on the opposite side for monsieur. The wash-basin is shut off by a curtain. It is a large room, the smell of cheap hotels faint, almost imperceptible. The street outside is narrow, cobble-stoned, going sharply uphill and ending in a flight of steps. What they call an impasse.
From Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
Sarah Hall’s four novels have already shown her to be a writer of extraordinary talents, whether in the rough magic of The Carhullan Army, about female resistance in a near-future police state, or the passionate intertwined narratives of art and identity that make up the Booker-longlisted How to Paint a Dead Man. With her first short-story collection, her writing takes another leap forward, into a landscape entirely her own.
Monstrous events happen offstage over the course of these seven stories: beatings, maulings, suicide and abandonment. But their force is felt all the more powerfully through the measured precision of Hall’s prose, which is always grounded in the exact immediacy of everyday detail.