May 2012

Karl Ove Knausgård

features

Names and Statistics

(broadcast on Sveriges Radio, August 14, 2011)

Today, at the moment of writing, it is July 23, 2011. I'm sitting alone in our flat in Malmö writing the manuscript for this summer program. It's raining, the sky is heavy and gray and the streets are almost deserted. I have been watching TV all day. I never watch TV anymore, but yesterday something terrible happened in the world, and it didn't happen in Iraq or Tunisia or Afghanistan. It didn't happen in Baghdad or Tripoli or Mogadishu. It happened at home.

I have wept several times today. I believe all Norwegians have. Because it happened at home. It happened to us. It has been on my mind all day. How strong the sense of home has turned out to be. What a large part of my identity is actually tied to it. And how important it is. At this moment, there is nothing more important. The feeling will fade, gradually it will diminish, become one event of many, a part of history that we will understand in a certain way. Right now, though, we don't understand it, we are in the middle of it, and it is impossible for me to talk about what I had planned to talk about today. I have to talk about this. I have to talk about Norway and what happened there. I have to talk about what home is. I have to talk about "we" and "they," about "I" and "us." I have to talk about nationalism and a nation.

--

Yesterday I was in Denmark, at a folk high school outside Aarhus where I was giving a talk. I sat on a train for five hours to get there: first from Ystad to Malmö, then from Malmö to Copenhagen, and then from Copenhagen to Testrup, where the school is. I have always enjoyed traveling by train, gliding through the countryside; it's like penetrating deeper and deeper into a country. Like the feeling of being on the inside of something. Here the buildings were not constructed to be seen, but to be used. I saw barns, tractors, rusty old cars in yards. I saw people dressed in casual clothes and work clothes. I saw tiny villages with empty streets, the odd local shop, bank, or post office. You can see the same in the country in Norway, Sweden, Germany, or the Czech Republic. Yet there was something specifically Danish about the images whizzing past the train windows. The red and white road signs. Brick houses, the occasional old white half-timbered house with a thatched roof.

When I was a boy, Denmark was abroad for me. I was brought up on an island to the south of Norway, and Denmark was only a few hours away by ferry. Getting off the ferry in Hirtshals was magical, for suddenly the world was different. The countryside with its long white beaches, sand dunes, and straw, the completely flat, unending meadows, the forests of deciduous trees. Not only that was different but also the houses, the roads, the villages, and tastes. The milk tasted different in Denmark, the bread tasted different, the sausages. Some of that feeling returned as I sat looking at the countryside yesterday morning. The almost sensual explosion that being in a foreign country could give a child. And the equally intense feeling of returning home, to the familiar and secure, after one or two weeks abroad: for even though it was exactly the same as before, exactly as I remembered, when we drove over the bridge and there were only the few hundred meters left to our house, somehow it was different. There was a distance to my home country now, as if it were familiar and new at once. The house smelled as before, but it was a smell I didn't usually notice. There was something unfamiliar about my room as well, because I could see what I usually didn't see. The orange bed. The shiny ball-shaped desk lamp, the greenish motley-colored pattern of the linoleum that covered the floor. The schoolbag leaning against the desk leg. The Wings poster hanging on the wall. The foreignness also attached itself to the hill outside, which I ran up at once. All the houses standing in line, the cars parked in front of them, shining in the intense light from the sinking sun as it hovered just above the treetops in the west, aflame. After a few hours it had gone. Everything was as it had been. It was there, surrounding me on all sides, my world and my life, again invisible. Home. Home is so close we cannot see it.

--

A half an hour before the talk was to begin, I arrived at the folk high school. It was situated out in the country, in a small village. Young people walked to and from the low buildings; some stood under the roofs smoking. I was shown into a kind of staff room. A young man poked his head in and asked if I had any special requests regarding songs. I must have looked askance because he added that they always sang a song before their lessons began, it was a folk high school tradition. I left it to him to choose. Another man came in. This was Christian, who was directing the course, and he told me how the talk would start. I was given a cup of coffee, I filled in my address and bank account number on the form, smoked a cigarette in the square outside before entering the hall and starting my lecture. I talked about how to present reality in literature. About the insurmountable gap between reality as it is, as such, with its trees and swivel chairs, globes and dolphins, and literature's description of it. I told them reality is neutral and literature charges it, whatever it is describing, and, if you are after truth, the question is how to present reality without adding something it doesn't have.

In the break, one of the office staff called me over. She pointed to the monitor on her desk and a TV broadcast. A bomb had exploded in Oslo, she said. In the government offices. What? I asked. In Oslo? I looked at the pictures. Buildings with windows blown out, dust and bits of wreckage in the street, police cars and ambulances. People gathering around to see. It was still raining, and the heavy sky had darkened; night was drawing in. I asked if she knew if there were any fatalities; she said reports mentioned only one, but the figure was certain to rise. It's just happened, she said. Must be al-Qaeda, I said. Why would al-Qaeda bomb Norway? someone asked. Because we've got troops in Afghanistan, I answered. And perhaps because it's a softer target than other capitals. The hall had begun to fill, so I got up and went to answer their questions. After the session, I went to the staff room to relax for a few minutes before the taxi arrived. Christian brought me a beer. We watched the reports of the Oslo bombing for a bit on a computer screen and chatted about who it could be. I said it would fundamentally change Norwegian society. My heart wasn't in what I said, it was just something I said, the way you do. We turned our attention to the differences between Danish and Norwegian literature. Norwegian literature is so serious, he said. And Swedish too. There's no humor in it, the way there is in Danish literature. No, I said, you may be right. The taxi arrived, I said goodbye, got in, fastened the belt, and then we left the village along the road alongside the dark yellow cornfields with the trees standing like black giants beneath the blackening, rain-laden sky.

--

I have seen an infinitely large number of murders in my life. I have seen an infinite number of bombed houses, bleeding and weeping victims. I have seen massacres. I have seen the results of famine, car accidents, big train disasters, and plane crashes. I have seen terrorist attacks. I have seen them on film, as fiction, and I have seen them as pictures of reality, on TV and computer screens and in newspapers. We all have. It is part of everyday living and we see it so often we are immune to it. We have to be. We can't absorb all the suffering that lies behind every one of the pictures; that's not possible. But we know it's there because if one of our close relatives dies the grief is so great and so all-embracing that it can be difficult to want to continue living. This grief is in all of the pictures. But it is not our grief. It belongs to others. And these pictures are fiction for us. They are not connected with our own reality. The first pictures of the bomb attack in Oslo, where all the government offices have been blown to smithereens, are like all the other pictures of bombed buildings shown on our TV screens over previous decades, and our familiarity with the alien-ness, which all these pictures have created, completely overshadowed the familiar: Oslo, the government block, the newspaper offices, Verdens Gang. That was perhaps why all the initial comments pointed to al-Qaeda and a Muslim terrorist action, in other words, alien-ness. And that was perhaps why I was in the back of the taxi, being driven through the dusk in Denmark, reading the newspapers on my phone without getting upset, without feeling grief-stricken, I was resigned rather than anything else: so it had hit us as well. This was my home country that had been bombed and not just that but the political center and heart of the country. Yet there was something distant, something unreal about it. This was reinforced by the pictures: they were of buildings, not people, and of a symbolic target, political power, which is an abstraction.

Reality is not a picture of reality. Reality is tangible. Humanity doesn't exist, people do, and for all of us that means those closest to us. Your partner, your children. Grandchildren, friends, colleagues. People we travel on the train with, people we pass at the station, the young man in the kiosk. People whose eyes we can see. And what do we see? What do I see if I get to my feet, go out, take the elevator down seven floors, open the front door, and step into the crowds of people in Triangeltorget in Malmö? Everywhere eyes drift past me; they shine like small lights in the otherwise stiff, rough faces of adults and shine like small lights in the unfinished, soft, smooth faces of children, and whenever I want to look at them I have a sense of a separate presence. The presence, that which is visible in the eyes, is not produced by feelings, nor by the mind, but by something else. It is what makes them. Not into a person, but into this one person, right here, right now, walking in the crowded square of a Swedish town, imagining himself unobserved. This person has a name. This person has a world. Indeed, this person is a world.

--

In the train on the way home I connected my computer to the Internet to read more about the events in Oslo. Apart from a man asleep in the seat behind me, the compartment was empty. I read about the violent explosion that had completely destroyed the government offices and taken the lives of five people. I read the first speculation about what this actually was and who might conceivably be behind it. Everywhere comments tended toward al-Qaeda and Muslim terrorists and this being Norway's 9/11. I switched off and read an English music magazine for an hour. As the train was approaching Copenhagen, I went back on the Net. In one of the Norwegian newspapers there was a report about some shooting on Utøya. Text messages were being sent from the island. Compared with the gravity of the bomb attack, it seemed like a minor affair. I thought it was strange that newspapers would be giving it priority at this time. At the central station of Copenhagen, I bought a ticket to Malmö and changed trains, filled with a dull unease, which you can get when you feel the world is out of sync. Through the windows all you saw was the illuminated interior of the carriage. I checked the newspapers on my mobile. Ten possible deaths from the shooting on Utøya. There was a possible link with the attack in Oslo. The teenagers camping on Utøya belonged to the youth branch of the Socialist party, AUF. Had the attack been directed against the Socialists and not the government? If so, what did it mean? I thought to myself, as a kind of restless horror filled me, a premonition of gathering clouds and a lust to know more. When the train arrived in Triangeln, I ran as fast as I could down the platform, up the steps, through the streets, and to the flat. The first thing I did was call my mother. She was there, in Norway, and I was desperate to be with her. I didn't know why, but that was how I felt. She was at home, following the news reports on TV. We talked about what had happened, tried to understand it, and started to discuss what repercussions a terrorist attack might have for Norway. Attitudes would harden. Hostility to immigrants would grow. And the hatred would take a form that would be justified with a video clip of what had happened. While we were talking, I was reading the news on Teletext. It said there was a link between the two incidents and the man who had killed the young people was ethnically Norwegian. Those were the words used: "ethnically Norwegian." We hung up and I watched the news. There was a press conference. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Justice Minister Knut Storberget were there. They were deeply moved. You could see it in their faces and their body language. No one knew what had happened and no one knew what was going to happen. Behind them hung the Norwegian flag. This was a national crisis. That is what the presence of the flag expressed. If this had been an attack from outside, a terrorist attack by a foreign power or organization, the message the flags were conveying would have been simple: "We, Norway, have been attacked by them, the enemy." But when the attack is not from outside, is not perpetrated by foreigners but by your own, by Norwegians, the message was no longer so simple and unambiguous. This was not Norway's 9/11. This was not "If you're not with us, you're against us." The enemy was not without. The enemy was within.

--

When I grew up in the 1970s Norway and Norwegian-ness were one entity. At Sannes School we spent the weeks before May Seventeenth preparing for the big day. We learned why we celebrated the Seventeenth of May, it was the country's birthday, the day the constitution was signed in 1814. We learned we finally became an independent country in 1905, and we learned that the Germans had occupied our country during World War II so that we would understand that being a free country was not something we could take for granted. We sang Norwegian songs and the teacher told us who had written them, Henrik Wergeland and Nordahl Grieg. On the day, we all marched behind the school's timeworn flag, which was brought out for this purpose every year. There was a school band, there was the national anthem, there were solemn speeches about what this day represented and meant for everyone. All the children wore new clothes -- we called them our Seventeenth of May clothes -- and each had his or her own flag. The adults stood watching, dressed in their Sunday best, most with ribbons in the Norwegian colors on their lapels. After the procession, everyone went to Hove, which was on the far side of the island, and there were all sorts of games and amusements. You could buy hot dogs and fizzy drinks and ice cream, and for one day in the year we could eat and drink as much as we wanted. We discussed which we liked better: Christmas Day or the Seventeenth of May. The Seventeenth of May was a day for everyone; there was no one I knew who didn't celebrate it. It was regarded as a totally apolitical day, in contrast to the First of May, which was Labor Day and which the middle classes could challenge unobtrusively by working in their gardens. People didn't work in their gardens on the Seventeenth of May. The Norwegian flag flew from masts up and down the country. The nation was bathed in red, white, and blue.

In retrospect, this is like something from another world. Norwegian-ness had never been challenged. Children's readers were almost exclusively about Norwegian culture. There was something 1950s-like about everything. And that is not so strange: the 1950s were no further away from the 1970s than the 1980s are from us. Many of the readers are from the 1950s and when we were in Hove on the Seventeenth of May, I remember one of the places we played was in the German bunkers in the forest. In 1975, when I was in first grade, it was only thirty years since the end of the war.

In high school, I began to have a sense that history was not so simple. Concepts such as class warfare, the bourgeoisie, and nationalism began to take on a meaning. I called myself an anarchist and on one occasion, I wrote a furious letter against a member of the Youth Branch of the Progress Party: he was a Christian and against immigration and I was anti-Christian and in favor of immigration. I mocked and jeered national symbols: Norwegian brown cheese and the paperclip. I never sent it, but I still have it, and whenever I read it, I see there is something innocent about youthful opposition. He stood for the olden days, he lived in the 1950s; I stood for modernity, I lived in the 1980s. I listened to English indie bands, I supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and considered Ronald Reagan an idiot. But when a Norwegian won a skiing competition, and the national anthem was played, my eyes went misty like everyone else's.

At university we learned that Norwegian-ness was a construct originating from the Romantic period developed by a small elite in the previous century, when what had once been insignificant rural art had suddenly been exalted and raised to the center of culture. Rose painting, folk verse, fairy tales, the Hardanger fiddle, the stave church, mountains, and fjords. The Oseberg ship that was excavated at the time could stand as a symbol for it: up from the middle -- surrounded by rough, exhausted turn-of-the-century faces -- rose fragments of the wreck of a Viking long boat. We had a past, so long as we restored it: we were a nation. This past, which had been afforded a kind of prolonged life because of World War II, had nothing to with our student life. It was said that an inhabitant of Oslo had more in common with an inhabitant of New Delhi or New York than he or she had with an inhabitant of a Norwegian rural community. Apart from on the Seventeenth of May. For even though Norway was a construct and Norwegian-ness slightly embarrassing and chauvinistic, all students dressed up for the Seventeenth of May. Those who had a traditional costume wore it; others wore suits or dresses. With no sense of irony. This day, Constitution Day, was still maintained, was still a national holiday, even by a generation who satirized everything and did not take anything truly seriously. One might perhaps think this was a kind of empty ritual that was performed because it had always been performed, a festival that was only national in name, the way Christmas is only Christian in name, but only a few weeks ago, at the beginning of June, several million Norwegians gathered to watch a TV program about the Hurtigruten cruise, consisting of nothing else but live pictures of the boat trip, every day from Bergen to Kirkenes. It spread like an epidemic, and in social media, declaration after declaration of love for the country was expressed. You saw the boat dock in a little town in Lofoten, a band played, flags were waved, the quay was packed with people, and if you came from there, this little town, you watched with moist eyes. It is remarkable that such an atmosphere could develop in 2011, and there was something both touching and provocative about it because, more than anything else, it made a statement about this country's almost total innocence.

--

When I woke on Saturday, the first thing I did was to switch on the computer and go onto the Net to read Norwegian newspapers. I read that more than eighty people had been killed on Utøya. The same man had carried out the bomb attack in Oslo, then driven to Utøya and massacred children and adolescents. He had been dressed as a policeman.

The despair that overcame me was sudden and intense. It was as though all my defenses against the world fell. For a brief, chill moment, I understood what had happened. It was no longer news. It was no longer something that happened out there, remote and technical. Someone had walked around a little island in Norway shooting one person after the other. And they were children and teenagers. Their lives had been extinguished one by one. Oh, God, help us, one life after the other, one light after the other.

When I got up and went in to watch the news, the moment of insight was over. I no longer understood. All that remained were abstractions, the number of victims, the name of the island where it had happened, along with a completely unfocused, vague, almost weary sense of sorrow. I watched the TV news and read newspapers on the Net all day. I wept. I saw Jens Stoltenberg speaking, and I saw how he never applied closure. He left the situation open so that the grief and the love and the despair that were aroused, and were in everyone, had time and space. I called my mother, I called Linda. I had no thoughts or feelings for anything except what had happened. Now and then I saw the events on the island in their full horror and what the repercussions would be, but then the insight was gone again. It was wreathed in darkness. It was the darkness of grief, but also the darkness of an evil deed, and it was the darkness of death. But in the pictures that were being broadcast, it was light, and I recognized the light, it was the light of a Norwegian fjord one rainy day in July. Yes, all the pictures that were being shown were familiar. The dark green pine trees growing close to the water's edge, the smooth grayish-white rocks, and against them the heavy, unmoving sea, also gray. There, in the middle of this familiar scene, lay dead bodies covered in plastic. From land, pictures of survivors were shown. Some of them were being treated on the ground, some stepped aboard buses, and some were walking, wrapped in woollen blankets. Some stood hugging each other. Some shouted, some cried. They were typical young Norwegians. The ambulances were typical Norwegian ambulances. The police cars were typical Norwegian police cars. And when the pictures of the man who had walked around the island shooting them one by one were published, it was also a typical Norwegian face, with a typical Norwegian name. It was a national tragedy. But this was not like the other national tragedies we had experienced. This was not like the Alexander Kielland oil rig disaster. This was not like the Scandinavian Star disaster. Like them, this was a catastrophe, but not one that was a result of metal fatigue or a fire, nor was it a natural disaster, it was a human catastrophe.

--

After the almost total darkness of the first days, when no analysis was possible, the more long-term work on the nightmare we woke up to on July Twenty-third began. What had happened? How could it possibly have happened? What should we do to avoid it happening again? These are the questions we have to answer. But some we already have answered. We have confidence in the political system and our political leaders; they knew nothing of what was awaiting them, everything they did was improvised, and they stood up to the ordeal. I will always remember one of the pictures from those days, when Jens Stoltenberg hugged one of the AUF kids. They had filmed Stoltenberg's face, suddenly contorted with grief, and for a moment it was as if he and the kid were clinging to each other. When the moment had passed, Jens Stoltenberg looked him in the eye, sent him a brief smile, and moved on. I cried when I saw that, and I am crying now as I write this. Another incident I will always carry with me was when Stoltenberg held a speech at the church service. He mentioned a name, and from the rows of benches rose a scream of such despair it seemed to bear all the despair of the world within it, and I thought, this scream has resounded through the world ever since humanity first came to be. It is the scream for all those who die before their time. But the scream didn't come when the tragedy was mentioned, it didn't come when the victims were mentioned, it came when a certain name was mentioned. And this is how we should react, too.

Soon we will refer to what happened with a fixed term, we will call it "the Utøya tragedy" or "the Utøya massacre" and a horror will reside in that for all. But the name those of us not directly involved will remember, and the name we will connect with what happened, is the name of the perpetrator. As was the case with the Oklahoma City bombing. We can remember the name of the evildoer, it was Timothy McVeigh, and we know how many people he killed, it was one hundred and sixty eight, but we can't name a single one of them. They have become statistics. We know who was behind the mass killings in Srebrenica and we know their names, but we don't know the name of a single person killed that day. The executioners are names; the victims are statistics.

--

There is a distance with statistics, and when Stoltenberg mentioned the three names in church, he removed that distance. A name is the antithesis of a statistic. A name is unique. A name is individual. A name does not refer to any person but to a particular person, to a particular face and to a special light in particular eyes. No one can kill a person seen in this way. To kill a person, whatever is unique and individual must be erased. The person has to be seen as a representative of something other than the perpetrator. It might be "the enemy," it might be "the Muslims," it might be "the Americans," it might be "the Jews." What made the annihilation of the Jews in World War II possible was that the victims had their identities removed; they had no names, no individuality, they were no more than bodies and numbers. And they still are. All that six million Jews dying tells us is that there were a lot of them. For us to understand what happened, we need only one name and one face: it happened to you.

--

I have been reading Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf all winter and spring. I have also read a lot of books about him and the times in which he lived. Vienna, 1910; Flanders, 1916; Munich, 1923. I did that because I have written a novel about it. I didn't want to write a novel about evil or war or Nazism, I wanted to write a novel about one book, Mein Kampf, and the man who wrote it. If I had to describe Mein Kampf in one sentence, it would be that it is a book without a "you." There is an "I," there is a "we," and there is a "they." But there's no "you." Without a "you," the "I" can say and think what it likes. The "I" stands uncorrected. It has no obligations regarding anything other than itself and its own ideas. The absence of a "you" is also typical of Hitler's life. Three of his brothers and sisters died when he was small, and his mother, who was the only person he had ties with, died when he was young. He went to Vienna after the funeral and was completely on his own. He didn't have close links with anyone. Poverty in Vienna was widespread, unemployment was high, and political unrest everywhere. Anti-Semitic magazines and newspapers were thriving. Hitler read everything that came into his hands, but he was outside society, with no connections. He was a nobody, and if you're a nobody you're dead, and if you're dead you can do what you like. World War I was the saving of him; it gave him a context and meaning. But I presume also a strong sense of human insignificance and the meaninglessness of life: in his first battle, in late autumn 1914, five out of six soldiers died in his regiment. At the beginning of the battle there were 3,600 men, and when it was over, there were 611. This was the experience of a whole generation. Yet only Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. The mass murderer in Norway has also written a book about his political and ideological convictions, and there are clear parallels with Mein Kampf. Both texts have a paranoid world picture: in 1924 everything that is wrong in the world is due to the Jews and the Bolsheviks; in 2011 it is due to the Cultural Marxists and Muslims. Both texts give an exact, detailed account of how they can be stopped. Both texts quiver with self-righteous indignation. Both texts are full of cuttings and quotes from hate-filled writings from the margins of society, but also from acknowledged sources at society's center. Both "I"s stand completely uncorrected, both "I"s are absolutely ruthless, and both "I"s lack a "you." Which makes me think that Anders Breivik is also a nobody, that he is also dead, and to become someone he had to become ready and able to do anything. However, even though the parallels between the two texts are evident, the differences are greater. The document that was put on the Net one and a half hours before the bomb in Oslo went off is written in our language. In yours and mine. He writes that ideologies prevent us from thinking independently. I agree; I have said and written that many times myself. He condemns political correctness. I have done that, too. He criticizes a philosopher like Adorno, which I have also done. He writes that he rents cars from Avis, he writes that he watches the Eurovision Song Contest, he watches Dexter, and plays computer games. He goes to parties with old friends, he talks to his neighbor, and he is constantly worried about the experiments he carries out behind blacked-out windows. His opinions may be extreme and his world picture paranoid, but the world he lives in and describes is ours. The chasm isn't between his opinions and ours; the chasm is between his opinions and his actions. The step he took was to leave humanity. The second he retraces that step -- in other words, when he sees what he has done -- he will die. No human being can live with that. So he continues to live outside humanity, in a world where there is no other person.

--

The man who walked through the forest on Utøya for an hour and killed sixty-five* young people has not experienced poverty. He has not experienced hunger. He has not experienced war. Quite the contrary, he has lived in a welfare society and he is intelligent enough to have been a well-functioning member of it. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: What is it in our culture that allows such a distance to grow in someone that they can do what this person did?

--

Last night I was on the Net reading blogs on the pages where Anders Breivik was active. Everything there was new to me. The mixture of paranoia, intellectuality, hatred, criticism, politics, philosophy, and pseudo-philosophy reminded me of the climate in Vienna in the years before World War I. Swap Muslims for Jews and it is almost the same. What shall we do about it? Forbid it? Lots of people want to. But you can't forbid hatred. If you forbid hate-filled talk, what will happen then, other than the distance growing between those who hate and the society they hate? And if there is one thing that is dangerous it is distances in society becoming too stretched. After the catastrophe on July Twenty-second, all the political leaders have said they will confront terrorism with more democracy and greater openness. Democracy means that all votes have the same value. An anti-immigration vote is worth as much as a pro-immigration vote. Openness means that everyone can give his opinion. Even those who have a different opinion from yours. Yes, even those who are full of hatred. That is what freedom of expression is. If you want to forbid hate-filled talk, you do it because you are frightened it will spread, but then you are controlled by a fear of fear and a lack of confidence in the judgement and integrity of others. Justifiably, one might say, look what happened on Utøya. No, I would say. The perpetrator was one person. Not five million people. If there is one thing that all the demonstrations in Norway have shown, it is confidence in society and the power of society. Those of us who are here belong together, the demonstrations say. And we want the best for everyone. It is a healing force. We know it can also be dangerous and destructive. If we believe it is dangerous it will be dangerous. If we believe it is healing, it is healing. For we are society.

--

Recently, while the news has been full of images from Norway, I have sometimes been reminded of something I wrote earlier this spring. I had seen Shoah, which is a nine-hour documentary about the Holocaust, and I had written about it, for this was where Mein Kampf ended, in the cruelty for which no language has words. I went onto the balcony, sat smoking and surveying the rooftops as I often do, and then something happened, it was a very small incident, but I wrote it down anyway. I heard it and what I heard was good, and when I heard it I suddenly understood, with a kind of divine clarity, what we had lost with the Holocaust. It was so good and so painful that I have thought about it during these days, because these days have been so painful.

--

"The sky was pale blue, normal for May, and the usual noises rose from the town: the growl of buses, the squeal of brakes, the swish of tires, and the occasional shout. Some Poles were working on the roof of the flats opposite; they have been there for several months, building verandas and penthouses. From somewhere a child suddenly laughed. The laughter was so bubbly, so overwhelming and so happy, so utterly given to momentary pleasure that it also infected me. I smiled and then I got up to see where it was coming from. It was a child, judging by the gurgling laugh, of around three years old. I could hear a man's voice in between -- the father, I imagined -- throwing his child in the air again and again. But there was no one on the road below, no one in the parking lot or outside the garage. The laughter resounded again, and I guessed it was coming from the short, narrow passage connecting the pedestrian area with the street behind our block, hidden by the line of houses. I sat down again, poured the lukewarm coffee from the flask, and lit another cigarette."

 

* That statistic would eventually grow to sixty-nine as others succumbed

Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett