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Supino (3)

Supino_Das andere Leben_4f

Franco Supino’s fifth novel, Das andere Leben (‘The Other Life’) appeared in September 2008 (Rotpunktverlag). The book is based on the biography of the Swiss author and playwright Caesar von Arx (1895-1949) whose creativity suffered when his plays, for political reasons, could only be performed within Switzerland itself when the Nazis came to power in Germany. The playwright’s love for his (ill) wife & an unusual father-daughter relationship are the other central concerns of the book. The story is told from the perspective of the daughter who, her parents hope, will succeed in studying Art in Paris.

The following extract appeared in New Swiss Writing, an anthology published to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Solothurner Literaturtage (Solothurn 2008).

The Other Life

The green suitcase lay open beside the bed in front of the wardrobe. What do you pack if you don’t know when you’re going?
If you don’t know how long you’ll be away for?
If you don’t even know whether you’ll actually be going?

The daughter sat at the table she used for drawing. The half-finished sheet before her. It was resting on the folder for her collected drawings. She had painted the suitcase in a rich green colour; the bed, wardrobe and door were yet to be coloured.
To her right, the window. She had drawn the view. Several times. The cherry tree through the seasons. The garden. The bench to the left of the entrance to the house. Her father’s study, the kitchen, the hall, her parents’ bedroom. She had drawn the rooms from memory, as if the house were about to be demolished. She had done portraits of her father, her mother, Johanna, the cat, herself in rough outline, moments of her life recorded in a sketch. She had drawn landscapes. Speuz, the village. The stream and the valley. The river between Olten and Aarau. The Jura, the blue mountain, above all.
Her earliest pictures she also kept in the folder: the unicorn, the Swiss Cross, the map of Speuz. Scenes were depicted which she knew from her parents’ stories: from Leipzig, Engelberg. That memorable matinee in the Schauspielhaus in Zurich when suddenly her mother was the centre of attention. Or the time the Minister of State had lunch with them at Whitsun in the parlour still decorated for Christmas.

She kept all her drawings in the folder. She should pack the folder first, her father had said. You’ll drop by on the first or second day after you arrive and submit the folder, he had said.

The Academy would examine the drawings. She could see the men on the committee before her: amazed, they would say, strictly, She’s not the finished article, but it’s all there. It’s all there already, there’s nothing we can teach her. She’s a dilettante, and dilettantes can only help themselves, their talent cannot be fostered.

If she went through all her work, she was torn. She asked herself which she should leave in, or what she could change in the individual pictures, if she were to try to second-guess what was wanted. It wasn’t possible, though. She couldn’t bring herself to judge, to select. She would submit the folder with all her drawings – or she wouldn’t do it at all. What she was putting before the Academy was not a promise for the future, it was the result of a life.

She should pack her case, her father had said. First, the folder, then the usual bits and pieces, the kind of things you need. She would know what. The usual bits and pieces… The kind of things you need…
You’re leaving tomorrow, her father had said.

She was in a hurry, and she wasn’t in a hurry.
One day, like everyone else, she would have gone and would never come back.

Her father was in his study, but he was not working. He was waiting. Towards evening, in the Lőwe, he had taken a call from the hospital in Aarau; they had kept her mother in, as they, father and daughter, had sensed they would.

They knew what that meant. They were immediately hoping for the miracle that wouldn’t happen. They knew it wouldn’t happen because they didn’t believe in miracles. How was a miracle to happen if you didn’t believe in it? -–If I were the good Lord, the daughter thought, I wouldn’t give non-believers anything either, and certainly not a miracle.
There was nothing for them to do, but wait. Her here at her drawing table; her father across in the other room, at his desk.

Her father was pretending that things were as they always were. But he would sit at his desk all through the night and discover he couldn’t work. Not without his wife. His daughter had drawn him: bent over the desk, his forehead in one hand, the other hovering over the death mask of his playwright friend, Georg Kaiser. As always, he would retire to his bedroom only towards morning. He would lie there and not get to sleep.

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