Georgi Gospodinov - And All Turned Moon
Castor P. lives in a world where the seasons have been replaced with artificial replications, where bees are gone, and thus flowers and trees, where insurance is provided to determine the length of your life, and where copies of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie walk around, ageing and unfashionable. In short, a completely artificial world, made particularly unreal to Castor P. because he remembers trees and sunshine and rain. This is the world of Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov’s And All Turned Moon, and it is without question an unsettling future.
Castor P.’s insurance, generously provided at birth, allows him to live for decades yet, but, approaching eighty, he doesn’t see the point in living much longer. Of course,
[h]e had to settle a few formalities. Death makes us get organized, he thought, as he walked towards the Central Office of Last Wishes, the Department for the Finalisation of Earthly Existence.
He wants death because the bees are gone, and because life doesn’t seem to have much value when everything is plastic and metal.
Technology was developing faster and faster, but it was still limited in the ways it could patch up the damage it had already caused.
This is, of course, a telling quote in the wake of the current Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe at the hands of BP’s negligence, but one that could just as easily apply in any year, any location. One needs only witness the spewing mouths of chemical factories or the belching smokestacks of fruit juice factories. It’s all the same, everywhere – we race ahead of ourselves technologically, and never worry much about the cleanup or lasting effects. Castor P. notes that,
Everything around him confirmed the series of failures that characterized his life.
and finds that,
…even the sky looked as though it had been ineptly sewn-up after surgery.
Castor P. is anxious to hear from his son, whom he has notified of his wish to end his life earlier than expected. He remembers his own childhood and his relationship with his father, and also his career as an astronomer. Castor P. is, in a way, remembering our present, which allows Gospodinov the opportunity to capture the way things are today in lovely language and with startling imagery (no wonder, considering he began his writing life as a poet).
Gospodinov writes about himself that,
His favourite genre is the aforementioned ‘natural novel’, which can mix – in a single book – a Bible for flies, lists of things one enjoyed in the ‘70s, collections of classic novel openings, and various stories from the ‘90s. Favourite themes? Just one: how to find a miracle where miracles, principally, have been denied us – in our own every day lives. Also: why in God’s name are our lives so unfairly short?
He also mentions that he likes to “write about things that haven’t happened”, which fits neatly alongside And All Turned Moon. It is a short story unhappy with technology, seeing it as a terminal point for sensitivity and emotion, and with it, humanity. While the story itself is exceptionally tightly contained within the memories of one man, the geography of it spans absurdly large. Castor P. tosses off the fact that his son lives a galaxy away, and notes in passing that, should his son wish to be there with him when he dies, the trip is only a few short weeks. This absurd enlargement of the physical and reduction of travel (and thus time) juxtaposes nicely with Castor P.’s sadness regarding the loss of nature and the comfort it provides. Also noteworthy is that the future of Gospodinov’s story is only a short few decades from our own time – Castor P., as a young and ambitious astronomer, made a significant breakthrough in 2011. Again, this reinforces the comically large scale of technology and its achievements.
And All Turned Moon is a fascinating story because it reflects, I think, the thoughts of a writer who has gone through an astonishing level of technological shift in his lifetime, and, mostly, regrets it. Bulgaria, when Gospodinov was born, was well behind the curve technologically compared with the West, and it has since caught up. If we consider the shift that must have taken place before his eyes, it is no wonder the author is reluctant to enthusiastically embrace every new gadget that comes along. And, to be honest, why should I, or any of us? It’s all so much detritus to distract us from the meaningful aspects of life. For Gosdpodinov’s Castor P., these things are bees, trees, memories of his father and reconciliation with his son. For you or I, something different, of course, but it’s hard to believe anyone would pick their shiny gadget.
And All Turned Moon by Georgi Gospodinov is a short story from The Dalkey Archive Press’ publication, Best European Fiction 2010 (edited by Aleksander Hemon). This review is part of a series intending to examine each story from the collection, in an effort to broaden awareness of both the project itself, and the excellent array of authors contained within.
Other titles under review from the Best European Fiction 2010 anthology include:
---Belgium: Toussaint, Jean-Phillipe - Zidane's Melancholy
---Bosnian: Štiks, Igor - At the Sarajevo Market
---Croatian: Ušumović, Neven – Vereš
---Danish: Aidt, Naja Marie - Bulbjerg
---Estonian: Viiding, Elo - Foreign Women
---French: Montalbetti, Christine - Hotel Komaba Eminence (With Haruki Murakami)
---Hungarian: Konrád, György - Jeremiah's Terrible Tale
---Icelandic: Bragi, Steinar - The Sky Over Thingvellir
---Italian: Mozzi, Guilio - Carlo Doesn't Know How to Read
List of title published by The Dalkey Archive Press under review