Like Lips, Like Skins

Most of you know I’m not Serbian, but I’m honored to be included in this issue of contemporary European literature titled “Serbian Moments.” It’s nice to see the first chapter of the original English edition of my second book, “Like Lips, Like Skins,” published in this fine magazine of European writing. Thanks, Trafika Europe, and thanks, Andrew Singer, for championing so much important new writing in translation.

You can read the entire chapter here.


Coming soon from Literaturverlag Droschl: The German edition of Like Lips, Like Skins.

I’ve been co-translating it, we’re happy with the results, but the essentially untranslatable title has transformed into a word that means cycles, circuits, circulations, in other words contains multiple meanings that fit this novel about family trauma well.

Warily, circuitously, I peer back in time; I slip on my coat feeling raw and vulnerable. Sudden insights spark strobe-like in the dark, momentarily illuminating long-ago scenes in chiseled, lightning-etched detail. I shiver and tremble as unanticipated stabs of anxious rumination slice through the everyday like shrapnel. Discovery, when it comes, can be strangely unspectacular. Climbing the subway steps one drizzly morning, emerging onto Oranienburger Strasse as the copper-colored reflection of a streetlamp not yet turned off from the night before flashes in the scattered drops dotting the asphalt before me, I suddenly see it: each generation blindly, unknowingly conscripted in a mission to correct the failures and heartaches of the one preceding it, to undo the damage of time. 

Zaghaft und über Umwege blicke ich in die Vergangenheit. Ich ziehe mir den Mantel über, fühle mich roh und verletzlich. Plötzliche Erkenntnisse leuchten wie ein Scheinwerfer in die Tiefe und erhellen für einen Augenblick längst vergangene Szenen in feinen, blitzartig gestochenen Details. Mich fröstelt, ich bekomme Gänsehaut, wenn Momente ängstlichen Grübelns wie scharfe Pfeile den Alltag durchbohren. Entdeckungen können, wenn sie eintreffen, verblüffend unspektakulär sein. Als ich eines regnerischen Morgens die Treppen der U-Bahnstation Oranienburger Straße hinaufsteige und auf dem von Regentropfen gesprenkelten Asphalt vor mir den kupferfarbenen Widerschein der Straßenlaternen sehe, die von der letzten Nacht noch nicht erlöscht sind, erkenne ich plötzlich, wie jede Generation blindlings und unbewusst einem Auftrag unterworfen ist, die Fehler und Schmerzen der Generation vor ihr zu korrigieren, um die Schäden der Zeit wiedergutzumachen.

Hear the full interview on Yale Radio:

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Making art was a form of archaeology, of excavating the inscrutable. It revealed itself through fragments, through their reconstruction. Why this dot, this smear—why did they resonate in such an unmistakable way? It was essential to recognize these events, to understand the patterns of their repetition and to narrow them down to a visual vocabulary. These were the elements at our disposal, there were never more than a handful of them, and they remained irreducible. Process was everything: there had to be a truthfulness to it, a conjunction between the act and the impulse that had propelled it, an economy in which every mark stood for something—not as a means to an end, but at the very moment it was being made. It required a suspension of conscious will; it was about locating one’s inner sensorium and learning to pay attention to it, to trust it. It was the point of convergence between the self and the world: the place where, if only for an instant, a universal language might be revealed. I stepped back to view the large canvas. Subtle shadows were visible across the white expanse now, caused by the topography of the scraped surface beneath it. Swirls of pigment had come to rest in the turpentine on the floor, and as I bent down to spread a few sheets of newspaper over the turbid puddle, my reflection bent down with me and reached its fingertips up toward my outstretched hand. 

— from the novel-in-progress Like Lips, Like Skins