Nazariy Zanoz. “The Book Of Wonders”. Kyiv: Laurus, 2018. 172 p.
Do you know where Terebovlya is? I know already: this is a town in the Galician Podillya above the river Gnizna, which is in the Ternopil region, 49°18′02″ N 25°41′58″ E. But after forty-five short stories of Nazariy Zanoz which were included in his debut book “The Book Of Wonders” I gave an irrefutable proof: Terebovlya is somewhere near Macondo.
(No, I’m not comparing Zanoz with Márquez).
There is a benchmark in the first story how simple casual things in the world of Zanoz become magic. A young man escapes from the chase, he’s chased by another man with a company: both of them have a crush for the same girl. While he’s fleeing, the other one is being desperately called by that lady. Three of them are running: a loser-lover is followed by a happy lover who is chased by a finicky mistress. The question: Who is the one who runs the race in this story? And the main idea: Who needs you when you’re fleeing?
There’s a benchmark in the first story how the geographical neighboring becomes the confrontation of the two worlds. One guy is from Terebovlya, another – from Pleban. The one is struck by the Pleban girls, the other wants to seize the viaduct. Local cultural attractions, no doubt. The body of a woman as a body of culture, in 2018 it’s really funny.
There’s a deceptively light intonation in the first story which is the key feature of not only Zanoz’s stories but of his opinion journalism. Supposedly, this story is with a happy end. A runner in this manner is lured at the party where he is awaited by the slow dances along Viktor Pavlik – no explanations, no excuses, everything happened by itself. (If only this is not a deathbed delirium, which is also possible because that young fool thinks about suicide; and now he’s in hell, judging by the song content). And in this dance nothing could be better than stroking the fingers of the young mistress, hooking on the ticket which she uses tomorrow to go away from here. What is it like this ‘tomorrow’? In the world of magic, the present is not clear enough.
There’s an ironical play with cultural codes in the first story. Yes, it wouldn’t be serious to assume that this all is a naive about the love triangle. So, let’s discuss in detail this aspect because this is “Zanoz’s method”. The male protagonist of the story is called Felishberto, the female protagonist is called Marichka. Not really. It’s asked: “Where do Marichkas come from in Terebovlya?”. It’s answered: “She’s called Luciana”. The guy also has a great avatar: “Where does some Felishberto come from in Terebovlya on Zazamcha? He’s called Raymond. Raymond Atanasovych”. And Latin-American passions boil in the infinite TV novel “Run, Fedya, run”. Yes, truly speaking, he’s Fedya. And closer to the finale, the lovers start dancing, turning into Marichka and Ivanko, an archetypal couple of Ukrainian literature. Although pop performed by Pavlik doesn’t become the magic songs of “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” because there are no my goats… no my goats.
(No, I’m not comparing Zanoz with Kotsiubyskyi).
Well, Zanoz doesn’t have goats but he has cows inside of which the cherry trees grow which threaten to break outside. However, this is a different story. In this story – in “Flishberto” – a quick-fired change of the names of lovers mix Zanoz’s love story in the plane of “world creating”. Not living people but purely cultural codes start acting in it. A naive tale about the youth love becomes equal with art-amore, philosophy, in which the one deserves love (!) who can recreate the dynamics of “big” life in their “small” private biography. I can assume that this is the one who runs faster and knows many quirky words-names.
(No, I’m not comparing Zanoz with Ovidius).
Well, but how? Specific facts of specific geographic town. A subtle emotional picture of the commonplace, in their essence, biographies. The promise of the justice of a quiet, non-conflictual life for all. And in the end, the explanation: all those, excuse me, this is not about you, this is about those who are able to be incessantly reborn, to turn into other people, into things, symbols, codes and signs. To lose oneself, i.e. to lose oneself consciously and gradually. Preferably, within the limits of one small city and within the limits of one small life. Well, like this. Run as fast as you can, not escaping but chasing. Change lightening-fast – and you will be loved.
The other story from “The Book Of Wonders” is also funny and elegiac “Far beyond 25”. The city is covered with fog, everything drowned in white. No need to open your eyes, nothing is seen anyway. How can an abundance of white and grey colors create pitch darkness? It’s dark in Terebovlya now. The fog smells with blueberry so much that you yourself gradually become a yafyna (‘blueberry’ in the Carpathian dialect). Get on on the tram and see how the parrots fly around and become blue-violet yourself. The fogs have such an effect, haven’t you heard? In Terebovlya they definitely have. And the tram goes, smelling the perfumes of the woman-driver, comes to a standstill in a dense forest near the lake. And nestle together – you and the tram. And you grow together with forest and blueberry inside you. But the tram doesn’t grow – “it’s far beyond 25”.
This means, that two concepts are poorly proof-worthy. The thing-in-itself, which impacts our self-awareness, is a priory. The thing-in-itself can be morality and can be a berry. It’s for the first. The second – this is an idea that the body stops growing in 25 and starts only renewing itself. The trams go off the rails and a person loses the ability to differentiate white and black. That’s how it is, the sum of conditions which make these junctures-transformations possible in the world of Zanoz. In short, an absolute loss of external benchmarks and the search of benchmarks inside of you. The eternity, which is defined by the ability of organisms to change, becomes a unit of time measurement – it’s simple. But one day is not enough for Zanoz’s characters to live up to the eternity – it’s not simple.
(No, I’m not comparing Zanoz with Petrovych and Mikhailovych).
Metamorphosis (as a process, not as a result) is an important topic for “The Book Of Wonders”.
Power lines bud in spring with new trolleybuses. A deposit of sand opens in the ceiling of the upper floor: people make a beach in their apartment, weave from the reed (also from the ceiling) clothes and huts, taste sea fish (also from there). Until that ceiling together with deposit is stolen and changed for something different. But the town already managed to become a coastal leisure resort village. A white lady, who eats exclusevily apple and foresees the author a flourish writer’s career, lodges in the house. A woman who eats at your expense and claims you, “Dude, you’re genius!”, either muse, they say, or death. They limp on the left jellyfish tentacle. Poisoned walls of the rooms move – first it’s a rhomb, then a rectangle. A man turns into a tree. The tables go alive. A kid turns into a fish but can’t swim, only drifts, so it’s fished out and is made taranka (salty dried fish) out of it. They sprout with cherry trees in the cow’s bloom.
No, this is not even a transformation, this is an insect metamorphosis. Pupa falls asleep to become a butterfly and sees the dreams how it was an egg. A boy dreams how he flies, means that the boy grows up. No, this is not even a dream. The worlds of Zanoz are not based on the logic of sleep, but on the logic of suggestion, hypnosis. Despite the slightly mad world, the one who sees it is absolutely conscious.
(No, I’m not comparing Zanoz with Pavych and even with Bruno Schulz).
However, despite the obvious homogeneity of the theme-idea and elaborated concept “The Book Of Wonders” is terribly uneven. We’ve talked about the successful texts but it’s worth, for the sake of the world’s harmony, mentioning not so convincing ones. I’ve already mentioned that the original strong intonation combines all the prose of Zanoz – both artistic and opinion journalism. But there should be less impacts of purely opinion journalism in “The Book Of Wonders” so that the stories don’t turn into author’s columns now and then. The magic world is more about learning than teaching – otherwise, it doesn’t deserve the trust. Luckily, such heedless sermons in the book are a bit less than a third.
“Deformation Of Being”, for example. Nice and empty amusements about how the material world influences us, where our fairly physical being changes with each new fragrance and sound. But immaterial works in the same way, and we become different under the influence of each new observation and thought. You don’t believe this surface wisdom until pine yields with apples, plums and pears in the end. While desperately smelling like a pine. Because that’s how it is: you believe the apples on the pine but a surface retelling of Merleau-Ponty – no. In this world, luckily, you’re evidenced by things, not by words. Accurately, the words become things (remember, someone already has this in the Ukrainian literature?).
(No, I’m not comparing Zanoz with Taras Prokhasko).
And “several years” turn into sprat in tomato sauce, although it is possible in oil. And a verbal game in which “they paint with the words” starts painting with words. A letter “O” becomes a worm. And “he” and “she” are so old words and so popular that they are used to name all boys and girls. Is everything clear? What else might be the questions, right?
Another story is “You Are On The Roof”. If one night you go on the roof and start sprinkling around something white and brittle in handfuls, it will become the snow. Bags of flour form genuine snowflakes, bags with sugar, which lumps, hail on the ground. The cords, recently torn off from the children’s piano, will fall like music. Not just like music, but like carols. This is Christmas Eve. Or more – this is a paraphrase of “Silent Night” (therefore, don’t pay attention to the exalted pathos, here it is almost appropriate), moreover, it is the only night when the transformation from the inanimate to the living will be called a miracle, not a wonder.
The boy is crucified on a tree, hanging among the leaves grown from the old written-off notebooks. It’s raining with old wallpaper and gauze. He is the “written” One, hung on the World Tree as the great victim of the World. Hey, climb down, tells him the girl whose turn to hang next. In this Zanoz’s story, there’s no irony.
Things may be words, people can be words, words can be things, words can be human beings. And only people never change so much to become other people. But we remember that there is no love here without change. In the world of Zanoz, it’s here that the boundary between the chimeras (word for word) and the madmen (literally) lies. Incidentally, this story about the hangman is a “chronicle of madness”. And it, strangely, at the same time is intolerably pretentious, and frankly naive. Because this is Zanoz’s “world of wonders”: half-hidden, half-world, kind of made from the half-displayed half-creatures.
Which, by the way, have their exact address: 49°18’02” N 25°41’58” E.
(No, I’m not comparing Zanoz with anyone else. He is himself interesting).