Don’t ever wait for the swallows,

Dear Larissa, Your short story collection Swallow Summer, translated by Lyn Marven (2016. Originally, Schwalbensommer, 2003) made me think of tracks made of air: we might know they have just been travelled by birds, but we cannot trace back the moment immediately before their departure, or the very first movement of their wings. Your stories felt…

She attacked first

Dear Oriana, You had never wanted your life story to be written. “I have never authorized, nor will I ever authorize, a biography,” you said once. So, it was with some trepidation that I approached “Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend”, by Cristina de Stefano, translated from the Italian by Marina Harss (Other…

This moment of daybreak, and this singing back and forth

Dear Sarashina, I must confess that I have read your diary – and I did it twice. In my defense, I guess I could say that it is not exactly a diary, as we nowadays conceive of it; that it is highly imaginative rather than objective; and that it was meant to be a public…

The secrets inside her mind are like flowers in a garden at nighttime

Dear Fumiko, Your novel Masks, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter (女面, Onnamen, 1958) reminded me of an intricate structure one is made to peel off, layer by layer, only to find out later that the layers only made more visible the core that they were to be hiding – they were, after all, the very things…

I am an ocean of waiting

Ebb by M. Vasalis I withdraw and wait. This is the time that won’t go amiss: Every minute turns itself into future. I am an ocean of waiting, enveloped in a water film by the instant. Drawing ebb of the mind, Which pulls the minutes and, deep in its darkness, prepares the high tide. There…

I don’t know what my limits are anymore

Dear Irmgard, The eponymous heroine of your novel Gilgi (2013, tr. Geoff Wilkes. Original title: Gilgi, eine von uns, 1931) is a twenty-one-year-old German middle-class girl who lives in Cologne, during the rise of fascism, in the 1930s. Gilgi, short for Gisela, is independent, matter-of-fact, and ambitious: she is determined to climb the social ladder and…

but thousands of bells clanged inside me

Dear Clarice, Rereading your stories after so long makes me feel as if I were looking through colour-stained glass: each story comes with the shadow of my previous reading of it. The shadow of how it felt like at the time; the stain of what I had not understood properly then, and do now; or…

Poem stains

Dear Charlotte, I found your poem on a collection of Dutch and Flemish poetry. It immediately left salt stains on my hands, as I tried to translate it. I’ll leave below my English version of your poem. I hope it hasn’t lost its original salt. Yours truly, J. “LAUNDROMAT DE NETEZON by Charlotte van den…

Everyone was fleeing and everything was temporary

Dear Anna, Do you know this feeling we have when something terrible happens in a dream and we must scream or run, but we find ourselves suddenly unable to do it? We have no voice, or our legs are suddenly unbearably heavy. This feeling of being trapped: that’s the stuff your novel Transit (tr. Margot…

They didn’t dare before; now they do, that’s all

Dear Anna, I was halfway through Manja (tr. Kate Phillips, 2003. Manja: Ein Roman um 5 Kinder, 1938) this past week, when your book acquired a new poignancy for me. Do you know that eerie feeling, when we overhear a stranger on the bus or out passing by us in the street, and, by accident,…