Authors: Marguerite Duras
Praise for Marguerite Duras
“Marguerite Duras leads us into her characters with such grace and power that we don't know what she's done until they take us over.”
“A spectacular success. . . . Duras is at the height of her powers.”
“The sentences lodge themselves slowly in the reader's mind until they detonate with all the force of fused feeling and thoughtâthe force of a metaphysical contemplation of the paradoxes of the human heart.”
New York Times
“Duras stands perennial and relevant, effecting and fraught. Any chance to encounter her psychological terrain is cause to awe, to be shaken out of compliant identification, comfortable desire, and to slip the frame.”
âDouglas A. Martin
“Duras's writing has real power. Her strength is in her images, in the music of her prose.”
“Duras's language and writing shine like crystals.”
“Duras writes exquisitely . . . with a brilliant intensity that is rare outside of poetry.”
Select Books by Marguerite Duras in English Translation
The Sea Wall
The Sailor from Gibraltar
The Little Horses of Tarquinia
Whole Days in the Trees
Ten-Thirty on a Summer Night
Hiroshima Mon Amour
The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas
The Ravishing of Lol Stein
The Rivers and the Forests
Destroy, She Said
The Man Sitting in the Corridor
The Malady of Death
Blue Eyes, Black Hair
The North China Lover
Yann Andrea Steiner
Copyright Â© Ãditions Gallimard, Paris, 1970
Translation copyright Â© Kazim Ali, 2016
First edition, 2016
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: Available.
Design by N. J. Furl
Open Letter is the University of Rochester's nonprofit, literary translation press: Lattimore Hall 411, Box 270082, Rochester, NY 14627
to Robert Antelme
to Maurice Blanchot
And the cold.
They are on the road, white with frost, a woman and a young man. Standing stock still, watching the house.
The house is bare inside and out. The interior still unlit. Beyond the windows a tall man, gray-haired and thin, looks in the direction of the road.
Night deepens. And the cold.
There they are, in front of the house.
They look around. The road is empty, the sky dark against it. They do not seem to be waiting for anything.
The woman heads up to the door of the house first. The young man follows her.
It's she who enters the house first. The young man follows.
She's the one who closes the door behind them.
At the far end of the room: a tall thin man with gray hair watches them enter.
It's the woman who speaks.
“Is this the house of Abahn?”
He doesn't answer.
She waits. He does not answer.
She is small and slim, wearing a long black dress. Her companion is of medium build, wearing a coat lined with white fur.
“I'm Sabana,” she says. “This is David. We're from here, from Staadt.”
The man walks slowly toward them. He smiles.
“Take off your coats,” he says. “Please sit.”
They do not answer. They remain near the door.
They do not look at him.
The man approaches.
“We know each other,” he says.
They do not answer, do not move.
The man is close enough now to see them clearly. He notices that they will not meet his eye.
She speaks again. “We're looking for Abahn. This is David. We're from Staadt.”
She fixes her large eyes on the man. David's gaze, behind his heavy lids, is inscrutable.
“I am Abahn.”
She does not move. She asks:
“The one they call the Jew?”
“The one who came to Staadt six months ago?”
“Yes. You're not mistaken.”
She looks around. There are three rooms.
The walls are bare. The house is as bare inside as it is outside. One side abuts the road, white with frost, the other borders the depths of a darkened park.
Her gaze returns to the Jew.
“This is the house of the Jew?”
In the park, dogs bark and howl.
David turns his head, looks toward the park.
The howling dies down.
It's quiet again. David turns away from the park, back to the others.
“You were sent by Gringo?”
“Yes. He said that he would come later.”
They are silent then, the three of them standing there. The Jew approaches David.
“Do you recognize me?”
David looks down at the floor. She answers:
“He recognizes you.”
“You're David, the stonemason.”
She replies, “Yes, that's him.”
“I recognize him,” says the Jew.
David's eyes are fixed on the floor.
“He's gone blind,” says the Jew.
They do not answer.
“He's become deaf.”
They do not answer.
The Jew approaches David.
“What are you afraid of?”
David looks up at the Jew and then back at the floor.
“What are you afraid of, David?” the Jew asks again.
The gentleness of his voice elicits a shudder from behind those heavy-lidded eyes. She answers:
“Nothing. He's a member of Gringo's Party.”
The Jew is silent. She asks:
“Do you know what that means?”
“Not for David,” says the Jew.
For the first time, Sabana looks right at him. He is looking at David.
“But for everyone else, you do?”
A sudden exhaustion sweeps over the Jew.
“You were waiting for us?”
He takes a step toward David. David doesn't flinch. He comes closer. He lifts a hand. Gently touches David's half-lidded eyes. He says:
“You've become blind.”
David jumps back. He cries out:
“Don't touch me!”
David raises his hands, made swollen and cracked by working with stone, and says:
“Don't do that again!”
She looks from one to the other without moving. She says nothing.
The Jew backs away. He returns to the chair he was occupying when they first came into the house, the one near the table.
“You're not scared,” he says, “You have nothing at stake. Take off your coats. Sit. You're not going anywhere.”
They remain as they are, erect, alert, near the door.
Calmly, she speaks.
“You don't understand. We've come to watch you.”
“Don't try to run away.”
“It's not worth the trouble.”
David is silent. Sabana points out the Jew to David. She repeats what she said to the Jew.
“He knows it's futile to try.”
“I do know,” says the Jew.
It's Sabana who takes off her coat first. She puts it down near the door. She helps David with his coat.
Tucked into David's belt is a gun.
They sit. Sabana pushes an armchair toward David. She sits in another chair.
The Jew is silent.
She sits up straight, looks around. She looks out at the road, the park, the cold. Everything is bathed in the same intense light, inside, outside. Nothing else is lit up. She looks over at the one sitting next to the table.
“We wait for daybreak,” he says.
Sabana's eyes are blueâdark and blue.
The dogs howl in the dark park.
David listens to the dogs.
The howling dies down.
David the mason reclines his head on the back of the chair, his hands draped along the armrests. He looks over at the far end of the room. He speaks.
“There's someone else in the house.”
“It's just me,” says the Jew.
“He's here alone,” she says.
“The Jew,” says David.
“Yes. Don't be afraid.”
She is still looking around. She is perched on the edge of her seat, still alert. Looking around.
“David has to work tomorrow morning. He has to sleep a little. If you try to run I'll yell and he'll wake up.”
“Let him sleep. You keep watch on me. And I'll stay where I am, over here.”
Slumber settles on David. He looks over at the Jew.
“He's falling asleep now.”
The Jew does not answer. Sabina speaks:
“The merchants' police aren't out tonight. Gringo made a deal with the merchants. They told him, âIf you let us sell to the Greeks then we'll give you Abahn the Jew.' Gringo agreed. The police sleep tonight. The town is Gringo's.”
The Jew does not answer, does not move.
“Are you going to try to run away?”
The Jew's exhaustion seems to grow.
“I have no desire to save myself.”
They sit quietly for a moment. Sabana, alert, turns toward the frost-covered road.
David has closed his eyes.
“Why did you come to Staadt?”
The Jew shrugs his shoulders.
“To kill Gringo?”
“Gringo is strong in Staadt. He runs the show with the merchants. He runs the government offices. He has his own police, army, guns. He's been making the merchants afraid for a long time now. You understand?”
“The merchants of Staadt aren't afraid of Gringo,” says the Jew.
“For a long time. The merchants are afraid of the Jews.”
“And who is Gringo afraid of?”
“Gringo is afraid of the Jews.”
“Like the merchants?”
“You know that.”
“Yes,” Sabana looks at him.
“You don't know what to do with yourself anymore, do you? So you came here?”
“Maybe at first. But then I found Staadt.”
“Like any other place?”
They fall silent. David sleeps.
Sabana points at him, says to the Jew, “They all sleep.”
They look at each other. Still silent. She waits. He asks:
“Who are you?”
She hesitates. She looks at David.
“There's nothing here,” he says. “I am not part of Gringo's party.”
She is perched on the edge of the chair, waiting. She asks:
“Are you an enemy?”
“What did you want?”
“I don't know what I wanted anymore.”
They look at each other in silence for a drawn-out moment.
“Who are you?” he asks again.
He waits. Her eyes narrow, searching. Her face is unreadable. She opens her eyes and says:
“I don't know.”
The Jew slumps forward over the table. He rests his head in his arms. He stays like that without moving. She asks:
“You didn't want anything?”
“I didn't want anything. I wanted everything.”
His face can no longer be seen.
“One day you came to David's workshop. You waited until the workday was finished. It was David who saw you. He asked you, âAre you Abahn?' You said yes. He asked you, âWhat do you want?' You said âI wanted to talk to someone.' He said, âWho?' You didn't answer. You just looked at him. He said, âAre you looking for David? That's me.' You said yes. He asked, âWhy?' You said, âBecause you addressed me.'”
The Jew is silent.
“That's when all this started.”
He doesn't say a word, doesn't move.
“I'm telling you, I'm explaining it to you, aren't you listening?”
He isn't listening.
Sabana, at full attention, watches him.
deepens. And the cold.
Someone has come in, a tall man, thin, graying at the temples.
Sabana watches him enter. The man smiles at Sabana. She does not smile back. He says:
“I was passing by.”
They look at each other. He looks away, sits down next to David, away from the Jew.
“Close the door. It's dark, it's cold out.”
He goes to close the door, comes nearer to her. He gestures toward the frost-covered road beyond the uncurtained windows. Then toward the Jew.
“I was passing by. I saw someone crying. I came.”
The deep blue gaze of Sabana now fixed on the newcomer.
“Who are you?”
“They call me Abahn.”
“His name is also Abahn, but we call him the Jew. Gringo had a meeting this evening. We're guarding this one until he comes. He said he'll come at daybreak.”
“Before the light?”
Sabana doesn't respond immediately. Then:
Abahn has noticed that David is asleep.
“That's David,” Sabana says, “the stonemason. I'm Sabana. We're from the village of Staadt. From Gringo's party.”
She turns then, gestures toward the Jew, resting his head on the table.
“I don't think he's crying.”
Abahn looks at the Jew.
“He is crying.”
She looks then at the one who is crying. Then the one who is speaking.
“He can't be crying, he wants to live.”
“He's not crying for himself,” says Abahn. “It's an empathy for others that forces him to cry. It's too much for him to bear alone. He has more than enough desire for himself to live, it's for others that he can't live.”
She looks at him with interest, his white hands, his smile.
“Who are you to know all this?”
She studies his smiling face, his hands, his manner, for a long time.
“You're not from around here.”
She turns away from the night and the cold. “We call him Abahn the Jew, Abahn the Dog.”
“The Jew, also? And the Dog?”
“And the other Jews here? You call them that, too?”
“And the dogs?”
“We call them Jews. And where you come from?”
“There as well.”
Her gaze returns to Abahn.
“Are you an enemy?”
“Of Gringo only?”
She does not move at all for a moment, her eyes open, vacant. Then she waves a hand once more at the one who is crying.
“We don't know anymore whether he is himself. An enemy, too. He's not from this place after all.
“We don't know where he comes from.
“He'll be dead at daybreak.”
Silence. She continues:
“They don't kill them every single time.”
In the shadows her blue eyes train themselves on Abahn.
“There are no gas chambers here.”
He answers slowly, his gaze frozen.
“There aren't. There never have been.”
“There aren't any anywhere anymore.”
“No, there aren't any anymore.”
“Nowhere,” says Abahn.
Sabana's gaze empties out once more. He says:
“Nowhere.” He looks at her, says again, “Nowhere.”
She is quiet again. Then she gestures in the direction of the road, at something no one else can see. Her voice is flat, her stare vacant.
“The ones they leave alive are sent to the salt mines in the North,” she pauses.
“The ones they kill they bury at the edge of the fieldâ” she gestures off. “That way.”
“Under the barbed wire.”
“Yes. No one knows that.”
He does not answer.
“It's barren, no farming there. The merchants and tradesmen gave it to Gringo after the war for his parties.”