01. 23. 2017. 16:01

László Krasznahorkai: The Last Wolf / E ultimo lobo (An excerpt)

"it seemed he had some problem understanding the whole story, as if he hadn't heard the beginning of it over the saccharine wailing of Mustafa Sandal, or had missed a vital word in the discourse without which the whole was incomprehensible" – An excerpt from László Krasznahorkai's new collection of writing translated by George Szirtes.


but then the interpreter yelled that Professor Palacios would immediately ring back because he said he actually knows the name of the man who shot the last wolf, though at least an hour went by before the telephone rang again with more cries of "si senor" and "gracias, senor," but this time, the interpreter announced in triumph, raising a scrap of paper with a name on it, her face red with excitement, he really does have it, the hunter being one Antonio Dominguez Chanclon, and here's his address and telephone number, and she was already dialling it, he explained to the Hungarian barman, a truly happy woman, at which point the barman asked why she was so happy, and he answered that it might have been because she was pleased to have been able to help, but the barman didn't understand — it seemed he had some problem understanding the whole story, as if he hadn't heard the beginning of it over the saccharine wailing of Mustafa Sandal, or had missed a vital word in the discourse without which the whole was incomprehensible, though he did provide a running commentary composed of doubt or simply natter on what he did hear, despite the fact that there were moments when nothing, not a word, of his commentary could be heard from behind the bar, though that was no problem because his most important dialogue was exclusively with the glasses and bottles, the dishwasher and the tea-machine — and so whatever he occasionally said was addressed to them and to them only, and even then only in Hungarian, not to him, not to the man who carried on with his account of how, according to Professor Palacios, he, that is to say Chanclon, had shot the wolf, a male of the species, in 1985—not 1983!—but on February 9, 1985, and that the said Chanclon lived at 3, Avenida Virgen de Guadalupe on the third floor in Caceres, that the incident having occurred at Cantillana la Vieja, near Herreuela, though, according to Palacios, or so the interpreter explained in a state of excitement, it was not precisely there but on a finca going under the name of La Gegosa—on a what? asked the Hungarian barman who really did not like the word—a finca, he said, the local name for a private estate where everything is fenced off and the whole territory is surrounded by barbed wire, the estate being protected by wardens or special guards, or both, who make it very difficult to encroach on such an? estate—but, he raised his hand in warning, we are still on the subject of Professor Palacios—the subject of who? the barman asked, mystified—a question he ignored with a dismissive wave and continued, saying, this was the information we received in the car, and it seemed it would be smooth going from then on, we'd ring up this Chanclon character, and all would be solved, though what it would all add up to, of course, he had no idea then, though one thing was perfectly clear, this being that there really was a hunter who had really shot a wolf and that since then, as the article stated, there have been no wolves south of the river Duero, there remained only one problem, which was that the telephone very soon rang again, the interpreter silently mouthing the word Palacios and signalling for silence, a redundant gesture since no one happened to be speaking and the driver was generally silent anyway, this while he, he pointed to himself, was just digesting the information he had just received and was thinking, good, at last we know how the thing happened, or rather, how they shot the last wolf, but whether he could seize upon this piece of information and make any use of it seemed unlikely since he was incapable of seizing anything or making anything of anything, he reflected, deciding that this had gone far enough and that this very evening he would stand before the people from the foundation and tell them, tell that that... that he wasn't going to write anything, because he was incapable of writing, because being incapable of thinking he was incapable of writing either, neither about Extremadura, nor about the last wolf, the story of which seems to have been entirely true as had been proved by the telephone conversation, though the facts as they came to him now were as follows, and he dropped his voice a little and allowed a moment's silence in which to sip his beer, the fact being that the last wolf was not the one in the Chanclon story, because there were two at that time, one at Santiago de Alcántara and another near Rio Zapato, and that these two "perished" at much the same time, both being regarded as "the last wolf," in other words that the whole "last wolf" business was a bit of a myth as Palacios admitted to the interpreter on the phone, since all we can say scientifically is that Chanclon's was the last officially registered incident regarding the legal shooting of a wolf, beyond which little can be ascertained with any confidence, little or nothing, information the interpreter passed on, and with that the matter was closed for that day at least, and they parted in the hotel that evening having resolved to ring Chanclon early the next morning and to take matters from there, because, for the time being, the interpreter informed him, no one was picking up the phone at his end, though the next morning, she gave him an assuring look to indicate that they were sure to find him in, and yes, he agreed, the next day, because he did not want to bother with it tonight and was happy to wait to see how things turned out, to see what became of Chanclon and his story, and that since everyone at the foundation had been working so hard to locate this Chanclon, he wouldn't tell them there was no point tonight, but would wait till tomorrow, and so retired to his room where he could hardly sleep for anxiety, thinking that, very well, by tomorrow they would have contacted Chanclon but what about what happens next, because he had no idea, and soon he was feeling positively angry with himself for having accepted the invitation but especially for not having made his situation clear before, because things were getting ever more complicated, and here he was, in the finest hotel in Caceres, and therefore in Extremadura, all the while knowing he would be incapable of writing anything about Extremadura, that he was here under false pretences, that he was conning people who did not deserve to be conned, people to whom he owed this magnificent visit, this whole, yes, magnificent experience, for however impossible it was for the attractions of the place to distract him from his profound depression, he had to admit, though he had only been here two days, that Extremadura did have a special magic all of its own and that he was almost entirely under its spell; that up to a point, under the cover of his own depression and bad conscience, even he was conscious, he told the Hungarian barman, of the natural history of Extremadura, which was perfectly wonderful and that he, to take but one example, was especially keen on the dehesa, that gently rolling landscape with its own species of oak, the holly oak, that they called encina, that was not planted in dense patches but—and this was the whole point—lightly sprinkled around the fields, the various trunks and branches of individual trees maintaining a decent distance from each other on account of the aridity, as the hitherto silent driver explained when he was glossing the word dehesa, the dryness of the soil, the oaks being able to prosper only this way for lack of enough water, this way alone, and he pointed through the window at the lack of shrubs and other low vegetation, at the pale soil with its sparse grass and stray oaks on the vast plain, that being the dehesa, you understand, as indeed he did understand, and felt inwardly, since the dehesa was much like his own soul—like what?! grinned the Hungarian barman—OK, forget it, he waved and took another sip of his beer, all he meant was that Extremadura was marvelous, and not only on account of the natural landscape but because of the people, he explained to the Hungarian barman, the best way of describing them would be simply as good people, at which the barman raised a skeptical eyebrow, as if to say "good people?!" and, yes, he replied, good people, and that too was marvelous he stressed, only it would be awful telling these good people the fate that awaited them, the autopistas, the suburban developments, in Caceres and Placencia, in Trujillo in Badajoz and Merida where he had already been shown how quickly this kind of thing can happen and was all too aware of how the world would break in on Extremadura too, because he knew, and he leant forward in his chair, raising his voice a little so the barman should hear this much at least over the mechanical bawling of the music, because he knew that the whole place, Extremadura, was outside the world, because extre means outside, out of, you get it? and that was what was so wonderful about both the land and the people, and that nobody was really aware of the danger presented by the proximity of the world, that they, the Extremadurans, lived in terrible danger because, he explained to the barman, they had no idea what they were letting themselves in for, what spiritual changes would be set in motion once the autopistas and shopping centers had laid havoc to their fields, fields where the poverty had been terrible, because he had seen photographs of what it used to be like and it was dreadful, really dreadful, and one really did have to put a stop to that, and they had put a stop to it, and would continue putting a stop to it, the only dreadful thing being that they had only one way of doing that, and that was by letting the world in, thereby admitting the curse, because everything would be cursed, everything in Extremadura, the land, the people, all, though they had no inkling of it because they lacked the knowledge and had no sense of what they were doing,


The Last Wolf/Herman: The Game Warden & The Death of a Craft

By László Krasznahorkai

Translated by George Szirtes and John Batki

Publisher: New Directions, 2016.


You can find our review on the book by Rita Horanyi here.

Translated by: George Szirtes

Tags: 2017, excerpt, László Krasznahorkai, George Szirtes