8.24.2004

One Map of Storytelling

From The Turk and My Mother:

"My grandmother had her own style of storytelling, a style that avoided accommodating her listeners in any way. She never started right in with what happened, which was, of course, what you wanted to hear. First, she had to make you see where the story took place, especially if it took place in her village, which was where most of the stories she considered worth telling took place. You had to hear about the fence cleverly woven of branches, the dirt yard full of chickens, the four fat pigs that her son sold off when our mother was pregnant with Madeline and couldn't stand the smell of them. 'What's the matter with her nose, huh?' Staramajka asked us. 'Everybody else can stand to smell a pig, no matter what special condition they are in, but my Marko, to make his brother's wife happy, he sells all the pigs. 'I can buy them back later,' Marko said, but then the army came and took him, so we ended up with no men and no pigs either. That's why the mayor asked us to take the Turk in the first place-- no pigs on the premises.'

My ears perked up at this early mention of the Turk, but it was a false alarm. We had yet to hear (not for the first time) about..."

[Continued here...]


Was the above quote intended as an inside joke to be shared with the reader since the narrator [Mary Helen's father] is storytelling exactly as his mother?
The author (and, I think, Mary Helen the listener) is fully aware of the irony of George's complaint about Staramajka's storytelling. George probably is not. But the whole passage--like the whole book--is meant to be a sort of comment on storytelling, especially family storytelling and what it's for. Every story in the book is told in an effort to change the listener--usually to unharden a heart, to win forgiveness or at least understanding for poor Agnes or Josef or Marko or Kata or Anica or Staramajka or George.

My favorite blurb on the back is from Lan Samantha Chang (whose book "Hunger" is really terrific--I haven't read "Inheritance" yet): she's the one who says the book reinvents the family saga ("and the art of storytelling as we know it"!). The Turk and My Mother is a deliberate"reinvention" or inversion of a book like Dr Zhivago, you might say, which may be where that NY Times reviewer's "not quite confident translation"comment was coming from. My editor said it was not to be taken to heart, so I'm not taking it to heart. At least I can feel as though some glimmer of what I was up to came through to the guy.

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