Variations on a Theme: a chapter from Carolina Schutti’s novel ‘Owls Fly Silently’

This Wednesday 24th February (7pm) at the Austrian Cultural Forum London, Austrian author Carolina Schutti will read from her latest novel Eulen fliegen lautlos (‘Owls Fly Silently’) and discuss her poetic prose with British writer and founder of #ReadWomen Joanna Walsh.

The event is the first of a new mini-series of author conversation events entitled Variations on a Theme organised and hosted by the ACF London’s translator in residence Jen Calleja. The idea behind this blog was to offer our visitors and followers more materials and information about the events that we organise. Ahead of the event on Wednesday we are delighted to share with you a chapter of Carolina Schutti’s book, translated for the event by Jen Calleja, below.


Owls Fly Silently: Chapter 9

Jakob’s mother hasn’t come home, so his father stands at the fence with him and looks out beyond the meadow towards the narrow dirt track. They would hear his mother coming before they would see her; the street sinks into the valley and the bike’s light is dim. Jakob only begins to feel afraid later, when his father impatiently paces around the garden and begins to take quick, loud breaths. Jakob can hear the breathing from the fence, even over the loud steps his father makes on the ribbon of gravel.

But Jakob continues to sleepily wait for his mother, who had gone to the doctor’s and then to her sister’s. It is autumn, but the night is surprisingly mild. Jakob only has a thin pullover on, his father wears a short-sleeved shirt. Jakob watches the sky growing darker and darker but then ultimately remain brighter than the forest, which grows up out of the meadow like a black wall.

Jakob climbs up onto the corner of the fence to have a clear view of the spruce trunks that break open the forest rank and file. Between and in front of them grow rampant shrubs – raspberry bushes – who slink their tentacles through the high grass and once a year shed their berries for those willing to sacrifice their skin.

Pale, mottled little arms steady themselves on the fence: the starry heavens lie like a quilt over the forest, over the meadow. Jakob’s head is slumped back – valiantly, his mother will pedal, valiantly, his mother will fling open the garden gate and ask his father why the child’s still not in bed, why they’re impatiently waiting for her outside: I’ve always come back.

What were you doing at your crazy sister’s, we’re your family, his father will roar and his mother will walk past him and disappear into the house.
In the night, Jakob will hear a rumbling, he will pull the covers over his head, put bits of tissue in his mouth and chew them until they’re saturated with spit and he will stick the wet balls of tissue deep into his ears until it sounds like the shed door when the wind sometimes plays with it.

I’ve always come back, his mother will say.

Jakob looks above: a half-moon and the evening star. More and more stars soon light up, one after the other and many at once. In amongst the twinkling Jakob looks for movement, for a comet and its tail slowly making its way across the heavens like a king with his train: all the stars around him fade when he appears. On the occasion of a comet you can make a very big wish.

Jakob had put a paper comet under his bed, meticulously cut out (on the back is the weather report, a part of it, half a sun and a bit of cloud), he leaves it where it is and won’t retrieve it because he knows it’s there, because he’s waiting for the real comet and he scans the heavens, while his father – now – begins to teeter on his heels, makes a first step in his heavy shoes, takes a deep breath.

Patience, patience.

His father doesn’t leave any footprints in the gravel, the tread of his shoes picks up a little stone now and then. Jakob scratches out the stones with the end of a paintbrush and collects them in a pickle jar. When he’s big he’ll drop the full pickle jar into the lake.

Patience, patience.

Jakob is certain that the comet will come. He searches the heavens with wide eyes and pauses as he suddenly sees a point of light, indeed without a tail, but maybe it’s just short or turned away from the Earth or hidden, but yes, it’s moving, a comet, a comet! He’s breathless, his heart’s beating in his ears, a guttural sound compels his father to turn and look at Jakob. The boy throws open his mouth, points his finger at the expanse, almost losing his balance on his tiptoes on the crossed beams of the wooden lattice fence. His father looks along his arm to the point of light, which he also sees.
A satellite, a satellite, now you see what’s up there floating over everything! and his father gives him a clap on the shoulder, as if knocking him into becoming a man.

Chapter 9 of Owls Fly Silently by Carolina Schutti, translated by Jen Calleja. Eulen fliegen lautlos, edition laurin (2015)

Carolina Schutti was born in 1976 in Innsbruck, where she still lives. She studied German philology, English and American Studies, concert guitar and classical voice. Her publications include essays on literary studies, literary reviews and other texts in literary magazines. She coordinates and moderates literary events and interdisciplinary projects, works as a juror, gives lectures on poetry and holds training seminars in the field of Neue Literatur. Schutti has received a number of awards for her literary work, including the 2015 European Union Prize for Literature for her novel Einmal muss ich über weiches Gras gelaufen sein (Once I must have trodden soft grass).

Jen Calleja is the Austrian Cultural Forum London’s Translator in Residence. She is a literary translator, writer, acting editor of New Books in German, editor of Anglo-German arts journal Verfreundungseffekt and columnist for literature in translation for The Quietus. Her translation of Gregor Hens’ Nicotine was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2015 and her debut poetry collection Serious Justice is forthcoming with Test Centre.

Book your free ticket for the event here:

Carolina Schutti, photo by Aichner


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