Seeing People Off: A Novel by Jana Beňová


“Voices are so bewitching. They bore into the body. Gradually uncover all the paths. Some of them shut gates forever, burn bridges.  Close openings.”

The voices in this novel are wonderful. I hated to hold off reviewing this book until closer to it’s release date, because it’s incredibly unique. Living packed in with your neighbors, where I know I’d go mad, it’s impossible to be private. “The neighbor is an emphasized character.”  The novel centers around Elza and Ian  living in an apartment complex outside of Bratislava. Why are the walls so talkative and musical, awwww the people… the people. The reader is a bit of a voyeur peeking at their neighbors, where Szegedin goulash can move a person firing off memories of their family, and rats have tasters assuring the survival of their “mischief” (group), some feel like they “stink of loneliness”, and some are spiritual hitchhikers. Through the walls, Elza hears the “agitated voices, political commentary..”  within the already small space, Ian makes a smaller one for himself and so it goes.

Somehow the author slips in Carl Solomon, through her visits with Rebecca, “Ginsberg’s first born lunatic”, whom by the way helped Solomon gain his fame. These characters are ‘swallowed up by sadness’, terrible swimmers, filled with terror, marching on, bearing too much noise and closeness, stuck in old age homes or sick of old wartime memories, “The war ended a long time ago, today we can’t get anymore mileage out of it.” The best quote of the novel, “Youth camp for some people started again in old age. Elza’s aunt lived in an old age home in Budapest.” Just the idea of such homes, of living your last days stuck in such places, youth camps indeed!

This review is all over the place, and the novel bounces around beautifully. I wonder, as I always mention when I read translations, how different the novel reads in it’s native tongue. Two Dollar Radio publishes some of the most unique literature, so I am more than happy to review anything I can get my hands on. There is a dreamy quality to it, and the writing is humorous even when it seems the subject would be heavy. It’s different, and I welcome different. I am a hunter of novels from other countries, God Bless translators, I mean that. In a perfect world I would be a polyglot, but sadly I am not, I sit and grieve all the books that are out in the world I will never read, sigh…

Publication Date: May 16, 2017

Two Dollar Radio

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