Nekyia (1947)

In their gray was a memory of all the colors that didn’t exist anymore.

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The title Nekyia of this blog post refers to a Greek rite of necromancy, and it is also the title of a little book written by Hans Erich Nossack which appeared 1947 in Germany, just after the war. The quotes are from this book.

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It takes place in an unnamed city which has been drained of all color and which represents the negative space of our existence:

Don’t you realize that I am talking about the life span between death and birth? A span of which we know that it stretches across far wider spaces, and about which we remain silent only because it cannot be measured by numbers.

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The book thus reverses time. The narrator seeks his mother, in order to be born: 

It is possible that I had been forgotten to be born, and the people didn’t like to be reminded of it.

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During his search, the narrator meets different people from his past, among them his teacher:

“Why does he tremble?”, these eyes that held and probed into me asked. I didn’t realize that they meant me. “It is not fear,” answered my teacher next to me (…), “it is the trembling of the leaves at nightfall. It is the uncertainty of a being that doesn’t know his mother.” 

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So my motherless brother took me to my mother. How could I have guessed that he knew her?

His mother tells him the story of his past, a story of war and murder, borrowing from Aeschylus’s Oresteia. But the hardest part lies ahead: The separation from the mother without forgetting the past. 

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Is this too high a price to pay in order to have a chance for a future?

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Nossack’s publisher had wanted a love story to satisfy popular demand. Unable to satisfy the request, Nossack stayed silent for six years.

Most things we were quite certain of couldn’t withstand his piercing eyes. They just disappeared, at first leaving an ice cold emptiness around him.

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