Title: Sy (Eye/s)
Author: Ardian Kyçyku
Place of publication: Tiranë
Year of publication: 2007
© all rights reserved to the author and “Ideart” Publishing House
The plot: A deep and complex novel about Eastern European life in the past 60 years. A work that sees Balkan history not only through the eyes of the soul, and not the contemporary man’s soul through the eyes of history. Encompassing a time frame from the 1940s of the past century until beyond the present, Eye/s combines powerful realism with the grotesque and with surprising humour, adding and reducing eyes in the heartsick consciousness of the contemporary reader. ‘One of the goals was for this book to ask as many questions as the person’s gaze does. I found the balance between the number of questions and the mysteries of life essential.’ Kyçyku says ‘This mystery was the Eye’s pupil, around which many important matters move, such as the underground and sometimes bloody competition between races, languages and religions, the force of the genetic maps towards the geopolitical and cultural ones, the material circulation (finances), people being in power and people owned by power, the prosecution of poverty, the living as if it is only about paying taxes and duties, the mass media madness and the continuous stay in the grey area, where only humour and the acceptance of industrious absurd stop the soul from getting completely frozen.’ It has been rightfully stated that the novel Eye/s is a work that must be read because it cannot fully be recounted.
There are people that have survived feeding themselves with paper. There are even writers that eat paper. The forerunner of these is that anonymous monk who used to write with his right hand and to eat with his left hand. There is told that one revealing morning, he realized he had eaten everything he had written. What had really happened inside his body? What might mean the act of writing, the writer, immortality, and the potential readers for him? Maybe he had found some fundamental answers which he had eaten for rage, for hungry, by virtue of the habit or impelled by a too oppressive feeling of wantonness. A few hundred years after, in my native Albany, the monk has reincarnated into another anonymous. A poor man as he was, the son of the anonymous poor men, he had inherited from his father only a bookcase.
“Money, poverty and life are those that your children will find by themselves, but it is not the same with books like these…”
They must treasure them by hook or by crook. The father took money from those for children’s bread to be able to buy those books. The heir hasn’t had the slightest idea that, around the end of 50s, the Stalinist system was about to forbid innumerous books, most of them masterpieces. Written by Albanian or foreign writers. The owners of these volumes, who didn’t bring to the special stations of books gathering, or didn’t put them on fire in their yards, took risk for harsh punishments. These books, like the majority of those written by man, do nothing harmful but to teach the young generations haw this planet has been destroyed, which are those miraculous feelings that aren’t going to be felt again any more, and especially how the man’s soul has started to become a neuter thing.
Feeling turned upside down, my co-townsman stole a fishing boat, filled it with the inherited books, and embarked upon passing the border through Ohrid Lake. Nobody found out anything firstly. He was such a trifling that he couldn’t be absent! Meanwhile, he grasped somehow a certain value of the books: The state wouldn’t have forbidden them, if they hadn’t contained something that surpasses the longevity of the system at least, if they hadn’t had a power somehow twin with that of the state. Why hadn’t been forbidden the bread, for instance? He passed the border without any difficulties, but he didn’t enter the water of the neighbor state. He was already an enemy of the people for us and a potential secret agent for them. He stopped into the neutral waters. If he returned into our waters the prison would wait for him and the cudgeling, which could obliged him to accept their fiction, would wait for him at his country’s neighbors. That is to accept the idea that he is a special agent sent with the mission to…carry for them some books written in the maternal language of our minorities, who are on the way of losing their language, their cultural identity and so on. The neighbors knew very well that there could be hidden the code of an extremely dangerous spy network, beyond the simple description of the weather, of a reverie, of an instant of melancholy or of fright.
The books from inside the boat were at a risk to be read with an anthological attention, such as only few books are read and as only some specialized readers could read. The fugitive remained into the neutral waters. It was as if he had never been more into his waters. He started to read in order to forgetting about hungry, about anguishes, but also for being able to understand why his father was so fond of those paper reams. He read only during the daylight because then the night was falling down when those in longing for light could not read. Waiting to be searched by those who were by our side or by those being by their side, the fugitive refused to faint and he started eating. Books. On a first stage, he chewed the white parts, those ones which were unprinted. He rapidly arrived then to the written papers also. It is only now when he became a kind of literary critic and he is obliged to choose what he would keep and what he would change into life and faces. What is that one which must specially be eaten actually: the fragments or the adornments? When the literary message has a longer life: after it is digested and amalgamated in the chemical elements, and not only them, of the body, or if it is kept on the paper? The frontier guards of the two countries had encircled the fugitive and they were waiting. They could not shut him, because thus there might be proved that none of the two regimes –which were contrary one to another anyway- were democratic and that each of them encroaches seriously upon the elementary rights of man, such as the right of settling down into the neutral waters, or that of reading and eating paper. Meanwhile the fugitive ran into a universal dilemma: which of the page he should read and which one not? What author’s work he might eat from? What theme the food is better to contain? He liked to read some of the pages enormously. There came a saving idea. He selected the dearest pages, tore them from the book and ate all the others. Eating them, he blessed the authors whose work gave him food, but he didn’t curse those whose works could bring one on the point of starving to death. After a while he found himself forced to tear from the chosen pages too. He desperately kept then only paragraphs, sometimes only a sentence, a few punctuation marks, blanks. Such was the way when a little thin book appeared into the boat. It didn’t have a title (or it was with another book’s title), and it was under the covers of another volume, under the name of another author or without author’s name. Here is the moment to ask ourselves seriously: this fugitive is the Reader or the Author?
How could it be possible to leave such a writer or such a reader to the option of some Balkan frontier guards in the years of 50s? Particularly, there was clearly noticed that, after the World War II, the reality had an endless imagination and often a humiliating one. Nevertheless, fiction seemed to be not only more human, but also stronger, because stronger is not the one who orders, but the one who selects. So, I snatched the author of the little volume from inside the boat, I gave a name to it, I gave him to eat newspapers and books which worth nothing else but to be eaten, and I sheltered him in a novel that was thought in the textual waters which link and depart the Albanian and the Romanian literatures. After that I started eating fragments from the manuscripts. When I felt satiated, I read what I hadn’t been able to eat. I can assert that I couldn’t eat more and that there was nobody who threatened me with death, except the Death.
The extract is translated by Dr. Luminiţa Tărchilă