Mon 27 March 2017

citybooks | The second tour of greats

A few times a year, the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren (“the neighbours”) sends a group of writers and a photographer to a city and gives them two weeks to look around and think. We put the stories and pictures they bring back with them on the citybooks website, which is now starting to bear a strong resemblance to a small city itself. For his internship at deBuren, Max Urai wrote a travel guide about that virtual city.

travel guide citybooks banner

In this sixth tour we’ll once again visit a few of the highlights of citybooks. This time it’s the turn of four stories of authors who are very well known in the country which they live in.


Nikola Madzirov’s ‘Homes without Frames’

We start with the Macedonian poet and essayist Nikola Madzirov, who wrote the story Homes without Frames in Skopje. I say ‘story’ because it’s written in prose, though it’s obvious that the text is written by a poet. Not much happens, but the sentences nearly explode with detail, like overripe plums.

‘In the cameras of the tourists, there are huddled statues, houses protected by law, smiling faces in front of the ruins of ancient wars and earthquakes, beautiful women in the airports who walk upright looking at the flight schedule boards, blurred landscapes from bus windows, Swarovski crystals that they hesitate to buy, the misery on the streets that they cannot bear, yet they want to see… Lots of endemic plants, lots of passersby travel around the world inside the tourists’ cameras.’

Read & listen to Homes without Frames



Our second stop is in Graz, with the Japanese-Austrian Milena Michiko Flašar. Farewell is a story which unfolds slowly. It starts as a child’s story with a deliberately naïve narrator, a narrative technique that I usually hate. But then the story jumps forward in time and the flower blooms.

‘I was eight years old. A bearer of scars. My left arm was laced with stab wounds. I told the school doctor: 'I sleepwalk, I fell into some brambles and rosebushes in the night.’ I told him this with the same air of nonchalance that my mother used for the people from the youth welfare office, when she told them that she hadn’t had a single drop to drink for more than a year.’

Read & listen to Farewell

© Lea Titz (citybook Graz)


Chika Unigwe writes ‘Heart of Darkness’

We continue with one of the most important African writers of this moment, Chika Unigwe, who lived in Turnhout when she wrote Heart of Darkness. Ejike looks back on his memories of Conrad, who he grew up with in Nigeria. Conrad used to be the boy with the great stories, who after secondary school moved to Lagos and after that to Turnhout. There he starts to send postcards to his old schoolmate.

‘Conrad never included a return address so I could not write back to him. I could have asked his mother who still lived in the same house in Uwani but I figured that if he wanted me to respond, he would not have omitted this. Conrad was deliberate like that. Even with his stories. He measured what he said, carefully like a meat seller weighing meat.’

Read & listen to Heart of Darkness


To ‘Lublin’ with Andrzej Stasiuk

We end our tour today with Lublin, a story by Andrzej Stasiuk. Stasiuk is a Polish author who a colleague of mine described as “Andrzej Stasiuk (!!!!)” in an e-mail. In my notes on this story I included “great, frettery pessimism, in a way that’s almost synonymous with Eastern Europe.” It’s a stereotype, perhaps, but there aren’t a lot of stories on citybooks about building a concentration camp.

‘So the wind is blowing like some kind of end of the world is about to begin. We’ve gotten used to ideas like that in recent years. That there’s nothing here, it’s just a breeding ground for winds and a nursery for darkness. That it’s only here that life begins. And so I like to come here out of spite. To stand in that rushing cold that goes right through you.’

Read & listen to Lublin


With this we have come to the end of this tour. Thank you for reading and don’t forget the guide.


Also read

- The second historical tour
- The first tour of greats
- The tour of travel companions



Translated from Dutch by Annelies Dotselaere, who did an internship at deBuren as part of her Master in Translation at the KU Leuven Campus Brussels.


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