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Monday, January 24, 2011

Close Read of Passage from Pavic's LANDSCAPE PAINTED WITH TEA

The character of Amalia Riznich is introduced as follows:

"'October has never come as often as this year; every time you turn around, there it is again. At least three times ahead of schedule...'

Thus whispered Miss Amalia Riznich in German into her Sévres cup. For the past one hundred years, her family had spoken German in autumn, Polish or Russian in winter, Greek in Spring and Serbian only in summer, as befits a family of grain merchants. All past and future seasons thus blended in her consciousness into a single eternal season, resembling itself as hunger does hunger. Spring merged with spring, Russian with Russian, winter with winter, and only summer, which was enclosing Miss Riznich now, broke step with this sequence to take for a moment, but only a moment, its temporary calendar place between spring and autumn, between Greek and German."

My overriding response to this passage is perplexity. Why does it befit a family of grain merchants to speak a variety of languages over the course of a year? Why would all seasons blending into one another resemble "itself as hunger does hunger"? Why is it that only when speaking Serbian does she "break step with this sequence"?

There is something magical here, suggesting that the Riznich family traces its origins to the agrarian rhythms of the seasons, and their suborning language to these rhythms. They are grain merchants, and dependent on this agrarian rhythm.

But why aren't they farmers? Aren't they more agrarian than merchants? Yes, but they are not rich. Pavic needed to create a rich family in order to give this, at times, fairy tale-like story the necessary gravitas. These are ancient people from ancient lines coming together fully only in summer, in the Serbian present, when their own language spills from their lips as they live the most carefree season.

This book was published in 1990. Could he have been asking for Yugoslavia to stay together? It broke up a couple years after the publication of the Landscape Painted With Tea. By this time, Pavic was an important voice that people heeded. We learn elsewhere that these notebooks are filled with information about Tito, the Yugoslavian Communist strongman.

I suspect both readings hold up: the magical, fairy tale agrarian one and the political one. I prefer the former because it seems less tethered to a specific time and place. 

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