Esther Kinsky - Written in language that is as precise as it is limpid, 'River' is a remarkable novel, full of poignant images and poetic observations, an ode to nature, edgelands, and the transience of all things human
Esther Kinsky, River, Trans. by Iain Galbraith, Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018.
Esther Kinsky's RIVER is a novel that follows a young woman's memories of her past through reminiscences brought about by her walks alongside the rivers that she encountered over the course of her life. RIVER was shortlisted for the German Book Prize in 2014.
`After many years I had excised myself from the life I had led in town, just as one might cut a figure out of a landscape or group photo. Abashed by the harm I had wreaked on the picture left behind, and unsure where the cut-out might end up next, I lived a provisional existence. I did so in a place where I knew none of my neighbours, where the street names, views, smells and faces were all unfamiliar to me, in a cheaply appointed flat where I would be able to lay my life aside.'
In RIVER, a woman moves to a London suburb for reasons that are unclear. She takes long, solitary walks by the River Lea, observing and describing her surroundings and the unusual characters she encounters. Over the course of these wanderings she amasses a collection of found objects and photographs and is drawn into reminiscences of the different rivers which haunted the various stages of her life, from the Rhine, where she grew up, to the Saint Lawrence, the Hooghly, and the banks of the Oder. Written in language that is as precise as it is limpid, RIVER is a remarkable novel, full of poignant images and poetic observations, an ode to nature, edgelands, and the transience of all things human.
My days always followed the same route: downstream and back. I returned with photographs and small found objects such as feathers and stones, or the seed pods of withered flowers. Little by little the fluvial landscape took over my flat…The river itself would probably have been astonished.What are we to make of the way that Esther Kinsky’s novel River begins? Immediately after the title page, the book reproduces the photograph shown above along with the dedication “For the blind child.” Then, after the Table of Contents, with the titles of the 37 chapters, there is an epigraph from the American poet Charles Olson: “Your eye, the wanderer, sees more.” Turn the page once more and there is a small reproduction of a photograph taken from the top of a hill, looking down on a line of trees and what appears to be a river in the distance. [If you haven’t read my earlier post on River, you might want to do so, as it will help provide context for what follows.]
This opening sequence underscores the centrality of photographs and photography to understanding Kinsky’s central themes of River—especially the intertwined themes of memory and trauma, which are introduced scarcely four pages into the novel when the unnamed narrator hints that some sort of breakup or divorce or argument has led her to move into a cheap flat in a London neighborhood “where I knew none of my neighbors.” Immediately after this move she begins to dream “of the dead: my father, my grandparents, people I had known.” Every day she goes for walks, taking a camera with her that is described as something like an old, cheap Polaroid instant camera, and each time she pulls the developing print out of the camera, “the same thought entered my mind:”
The secret of this rather unsightly plastic box was probably that its pictures had less to do with the things seen than with the person seeing them. What came to light when the developer foil was peeled from the black-and-white photo with its countless shades of gray was a memory I did not even know I had. The pictures showed something that lay behind the things the lens had focussed on, things which, for an imperceptible moment in time, the shutter release must have brushed aside. The images belonged to a past I could not even be sure was my own, touching on something whose name I must have forgotten, or possibly never knew.Photography, then, might be a process that can open up new paths of access to one’s past, even one’s unremembered past. At other times, her photographs seemed more like evidence of a trauma than a memory:
Sometimes, on my way home in cold weather, I would remember a picture I had inserted into my jacket pocket to develop. It was difficult, then, to separate the foil from the photo; the former would remove strips of surface coating with it, leaving a wounded landscape. A rent would gape in the middle of the grey, fuzzy scenery of the traduced and fragmentary reminiscence, and through this cleft broke a formless world of dull colouring, unmasking the black-and-white surface as a flimsy disguise for a wild variegation that was wholly unconnected to memory. These shattered images scared me sometimes, as if they were evidence of a trauma. They had nothing to do with my walks along the no-man’s-edge of the river Lea, but I returned to them again and again, as if their unmasking of the degenerative process of imaging might provide a clue to unraveling the secret of the relationship between picture-taking and memory.On the other hand, Kinsky’s narrator consistently reacts very differently to photographs that she herself has not taken, even those made by her own father. One day, she comes across a box of old family photographs that had been taken by her father, who, with his tripod and light meter, was clearly a serious amateur photographer.
I realized for the first time that I was seeing all this—my mother, my siblings and myself, as well as bridges, squares, Alpine peaks, the pale light of northern Italy in springtime, Renaissance palaces in Florence, the angels of Fra Angelico—through my father’s eyes. These tiny fragments of the world showed the decisions he had taken behind the camera’s view-finder, and he too must have viewed them with astonishment sometimes, since they would have reminded him of things to which the scenes depicted held the sole remaining clue, a clue only he was capable of finding.The clues to any deeper implications within these particular photographs died when her father did and are not accessible to her. Then, in an even clearer instance that the photographs of others do not speak to her in the same way, the narrator impulsively purchases a group of snapshots of one family at a flea market, only to discover that they make her feel uncomfortable.
They gave no hint of a narrative, revealed no intensity of feeling, no suspense of any kind, no loose thread of some drama to pick up. I found it impossible to attribute anything to these faces and figures, found no way into the scenes portrayed, and the emptiness that presented itself in this bundle of tiny segments of life I had purchased on some off-chance made me feel intrusive.This is not the only moment that Kinsky’s narrator mentions the intrusive nature of certain photographs. After she makes a few photographs that included people in the image, she says “it felt almost indecent to keep in my room these fragments of other people’s existence. . . Following this experience I resolved to photograph only inanimate subjects.” But, after photographing some industrial ruins along a canal, she admits “there was not much to see on [such] photographs.”
The narrator spends time with a young woman named Sonja, who makes photographs using a pinhole camera. Sonja is convinced that she sees angels in several of her pictures made in a nearby cemetery. But when the narrator looks, she sees only “a blot of the kind that had occasionally appeared in the photos I took with my old instant camera: white shadows, caused by light penetrating the primitive casing.” Kinsky is once again implying that only the photographer can see special elements in his or her photographs, although in this case Sonja’s photographs do not connect to memory, but to a kind of visionary spirituality. One of Sonja’s photographs also raises the specter of photographic intrusion anew. When Sonja gives the narrator a photograph she made that includes the roof and window of the narrator’s own flat, the narrator is taken aback. “I felt watched.”
The Charles Olson epigraph and its accompany photograph of the blind girl might provide a clue to what is going on here. The epigraph, “Your eye, the wanderer, sees more,” is from his poem “A Discrete Gloss,” originally published in Cid Corman’s Origin 6 in the summer of 1952. Elsewhere in the poem Olson writes:
In what sense isIn The Poetry of Charles Olson: A Primer (University of Delaware Press, 1982), Thomas F. Merrill suggests that “‘mere sight’ or, for that matter, mere sensory perception in its broadest sense, is what ‘A Discrete Gloss’ militates against. . . . Experience from within, the memory and emotions, enriches and shapes the visual sensations from without.” This was a theme that Olson seems to have borrowed from Alfred North Whitehead’s writings on perception. Sight, to express it poorly, is not merely a method for transferring images from the world into the brain in some neutral fashion. Instead, it is nearly impossible for us to “see” without involuntarily engaging our memory and emotions—in short, our past. Kinsky, in turn, seems to be suggesting that photography can act as a specialized form of sight, in that sometimes the images that a photographer takes can act on the photographer —and the photographer alone—in an even more complex voyage of memory and emotion, even to the point of arousing a sense of past trauma. - Terry Pitts
what happens before the eye
so very different from
what actually goes on within…
A woman walks around the streets and river paths of the Lea Valley in east London – that fine example of British “edgelands”, where the urban, pastoral and industrial continually overlap and erase each other. She is an outsider and an immigrant, and many of the people she encounters “drifting in the river of the city” are immigrants, too: Katz the greengrocer; the Croat who runs a charity shop for Bosnian refugees; a former circus performer. This last character is from Germany, like the author, who grew up on the banks of the Rhine and has felt drawn to rivers ever since.
Little happens in River. Characters are held at a distance, dialogue is largely absent, and the 37 chapters could probably be read in any order with no loss of narrative sense. Esther Kinsky’s unnamed narrator observes and remembers, piling up beautiful, silt-like layers of description and memory until it becomes difficult to know which is which.
If you think this sounds like something by WG Sebald, who mapped out his own literary edgeland between history- and place-writing, memoir and fiction, you’d be right. The same lugubrious tone pervades this book, the same ghosts of European history lower on its horizon. I doubt there’s been a more Sebaldian sentence written in the years since his death than: “Again and again during those wind-buffeted weeks, I picked up my battered suitcase with the intention of setting off on a journey.”
Kinsky is more interested in people than Sebald, however, and more in touch with the modern city and its inhabitants. This is a book to relish for its precise descriptions of landscape and weather, for its interest in the detritus of other people’s lives that we routinely overlook, and for its international reach as well as its localised intensities, all wonderfully evoked in Iain Galbraith’s translation:
A calm winter’s day under a white covering of cloud had given way to the sort of rain London was capable of at practically any time of year, with grey-brown, brightly lined clouds and the salty metallic smack of marshland at low tide, when the wind blew in from the estuary and covered everything in a fine film.
Above all, it is a reminder of what a privilege it is to see your home afresh, through an outsider’s eyes and words. - Jonathan Gibbs
In Esther Kinsky’s River, we accompany an unnamed narrator whose daily strolls along the River Lea in East London trigger memories, musings and meditations on her life alongside water. Drawing heavily on personal experience – from her childhood by the Rhine to adventures on the Oder, the Danube and the Hooghly – Kinsky’s work expands beyond the narrow channels of the Lea into an ambitious exploration of memory and its relationship to the natural world.
The river is a faithful metaphor. It embodies a journey – from source to mouth – while its proclivity to meander, erode, transform, divide, cleanse, conceal and forget, provides ample analogies to understand human experience. Stalwarts of ‘river literature’, such as Neil M Gunn’s Highland River, which recounts a man who traces a river upstream in Caithness, or Olivia Laing’s To The River, a description of the journey along the river Ouse in reverse, engage in a singular, geographic narrative.
But Kinsky’s River, recently translated from the German by Iain Galbraith and published by London-based Fitzcarraldo Editions, takes on a less defined course. Here we are invited into the narrator’s hazy landscape of memory, into a world that is both familiar and uncanny, linear and circular, in focus and blurred. In what the French philosopher Henri Bergson would describe as ‘image-remembrance’, this is a world that is spiritual, exploratory, contemplative.
This free-flowing nostalgia is evoked beautifully through Kinsky’s interminable, descriptive sentences (at times taking up half a page), and impressively idiosyncratic vocabulary (a credit to both Kinsky and her translator Galbraith). Describing swans along the Lea, Kinsky writes: ‘Ill-tempered guardians, gone into decline and close to neglect in their tired swan-white, which for all its grubbiness gleamed in this perennially umbrous corner between weir and bridge.’
Though Kinsky’s writing is colourful and extravagant, it possesses an even, candid tone that makes pleasant reading. Its shifts are subtle, and the consistency of voice allows the reader to truly accompany Kinsky on her riverside outings, and though her mind takes us to places unbeknown to our experience, we never feel left behind. The black and white photography in the text, the Polaroid pictures the narrator takes and pins up after her walks, her childhood photos that have taken on ‘a bluish paleness’ in their boxes, give the text a highly visual quality. As we encounter Kinsky’s vivid language, sepia-toned images are drawn onto the page with the nostalgic hue of a hand-made photo album.
To describe the work as ‘river literature’ would fail to give sufficient credit to Kinsky’s deft treatment of character. From the ‘thin-lipped’ Croat shopkeeper who listens solely to Neil Young and Grateful Dead records, to the curious woman who leads the narrator to a lighthouse at the confluence of the Thames and the Lea, exquisitely drawn characters appear, fade away and reappear throughout the narrative.
Beyond these fascinating individuals, Kinsky subtly depicts the multiculturalism of her local surroundings. Kurdish taxi drivers, African women, young Hasidic boys and Eastern Europeans intermingle in the daily bazaar of London’s East end, while the narrator herself is a foreigner finding her place. Rivers have forever been an indispensable feature of trade, commerce and growth, a place for people to meet, socialise and develop communities, and the cultural diversity of the narrator’s observations speaks directly to this point. Where there is a river, there is life.
With chapters dedicated to wind and rain, Kinsky captures the river as part of a the wider natural ecosystem as well as its vulnerable place within an unforgiving and grotesque industrial machine. The narrator describes how ‘crude colours of Berger Paints’ would be incorporated by the river Hooghly and would ‘eat their way into the fishes’ stomachs, just as paint fumes in the Berger factory in Homerton by the river Lea had burned into the mucous membrane and lungs of workers and local residents a hundred years earlier.’ Uniting the river with its animate neighbours gently highlights its anthropomorphic qualities and undeniable vitality.
The book ends with a characteristically long and colourful sentence describing a semi-supernatural encounter with ‘the King’, an enigmatic character who we meet on page one at the entrance to Southfield Park. Fittingly, Kinsky ends the novel as she began, the book’s circularity of form neatly mimicking water’s breathless cycle. - Matthew Janneyhttps://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/river-by-esther-kinsky-nostalgic-wanderings-along-east-londons-waterways/
There are some books that do not have much of a plot and in which not much happens but, because of the quality of the writing, they remain outstanding works. This is one of those books. The quality of Esther Kinsky’s writing is so good that you cannot fail to be spellbound by it. It is one of those books that reviewers sometimes call luminous or numinous – I am never quite sure what they mean.
The book is about a German Jewish woman who comes to live in London, not in one of the fashionable parts, but in Hackney. For British people from other parts of the country, Hackney does not have a particularly good reputation. It is seen, rightly, as an area of immigrants, as a slightly rundown area. Hackney Marshes, which figure in this book, are associated with a somewhat uninviting area, where sex crimes may occur. This is all probably unfair but we all sadly stereotype areas we do not know. Reading this book somewhat changed my view but not too much. What Kinsky does and does brilliantly is show that even an area like Hackney has its own beauty, its own attraction, if only we look carefully.
We do not know and nor does the narrator seem to know why she has moved to London. This is not the first time she has done this. We later learn that, after her father’s death, she took off to Tel Aviv. I had no place to go and no particular plan, she states though, presumably, at least part of it was to connect with her Jewish roots and her father’s. She had been to London before, both as a child and young adult and had mixed memories of it. But as for Hackney, it is not clear why. - the modern novel
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A mood, an atmosphere, rises up from the opening pages of Esther Kinsky’s River—a melancholy that unfolds so softly, so insistently that I repeatedly had to remind myself that I was reading words that originally existed in German. I found myself wondering: What would the German feel like in my hands? How would its texture taste, guttural tones against the back of my throat? These are questions that, in their asking, underscore how River is a text to linger in, to touch, to absorb, and recognize one’s self in. We follow the narrator as she temporarily suspends her life, settling for a time in a marginal community on the edge of London, so she can slowly disengage herself from a number of years spent in the city, and prepare, mentally and emotionally, to take her final leave. The process she details seems to be one we, too, undergo in reading River.
Under a pale sun and in the whitish, shadowless light peculiar to this place and these seasons, I took to following tracks which, time and again, led me back through the alder grove. This partly mutilated wetland wood with its childhood flowers and wild birds secretly appealing to my memory was my gateway to the lower reaches, to the path downstream that gradually taught me, during the final months of my stay, to find my own names for a city I had already spent many years labouring to decipher—names only walking and looking could force me to extract and reassemble from a web of trickling memories, a debris of stored images and sounds, a tissue of tangled words.
The river Lea traces a relatively short trail from hills northwest of London, through open expanses, marshlands and small stands of trees along the tattered urban fringes of the city, entering outer suburbs and running alongside the commercial district on its way to ultimately lose itself in the Thames. It is a curious little waterway, dominated by swans, frequented by gypsies, rubbing shoulders with multicultural communities and industrial wastelands. It is, for Kinsky’s unnamed narrator, a perfect location to undertake “a provisional existence” after having excised herself, “just as one might cut a figure out of a landscape or group photo,” from the life she lived in the city. One senses a difficult rupture. Now, uncertain where her next move will take her, she and her packed belongings have perched temporarily in a neighbourhood of East London where everyone and everything is unfamiliar and unknown—a transitional and transient space to harbour her restless soul for a time.
What follows is an account of the landscapes she explores and the people she observes and interacts with during this protracted process of breaking free and getting ready to move on. The pace is unrushed, meditative and dream-like; the moments collected simple, yet delicately detailed; the prose rhythmic and poetic, a tribute to translator Iain Galbraith’s sensitivity, no doubt, his careful touch. The Lea-based chapters keep to a rough chronology, moving through the seasons, expanding their geographic scope as the narrator chronicles her investigations of the river-bound borderlands, pushing outward to the marshes and open fields and inward to eventually trace the Lea’s historical pathway to the point where it meets the Thames amid vacant factory yards and empty lots. She watches her neighbours, primarily Hassidic Jews, and Kurdish, African and Central European immigrants, as they go about their daily lives. Socially her interactions are limited, but her engagement with the environment is intimate. She takes countless photographs—either with an instant camera or film developed in her bathroom—collects stones, feathers and other odd objects, and catalogues the sounds, scents, colours, textures and shifting qualities of light and shadow, as she attempts to absorb the smallest fragments of her closing months in the region.
Recurring throughout the narrative are a sporadic series of chapters that recount her earliest months in London, including her first, rather dystopian sounding job at a radio station, and her father’s sole visit, which will be the last time she sees him alive. She acquaints herself with her new home by walking the streets repeatedly, taking pictures, and soaking in the sights, aromas and noises of her new urban ecosystem, eager to shed the awkward veneer of an outsider. But the winds, ever varied and intense, that roar through the streets defy her attempts to easily adjust. And in a particularly vivid chapter, she describes how, during the rainy season, she takes to travelling the streets by bus, finding that through the blurred windows of the upper deck, London reveals secrets and boundaries invisible at ground level. A second-story world opens up to her, offering a passing view of life as it exists behind the walls of the city. Her orientation to this sprawling metropolitan environment as a newcomer mirrors her process of disconnecting, years later, within the relatively confined scope of the Lea Valley.
A third thread of interwoven chapters reach back to the narrator’s childhood along the Rhine, and recall a first visit to England as a young girl, both mediated by her father’s frequent holiday photographs with assorted rivers in the background. He and her grandparents feature clearly in her reveries, and frequent her dreams. Her memories also carry her back to other places and other rivers. The idea of the Saint Lawrence as a river emerging from the bulging Great Lakes to make its way to the sea haunts in her imagination during time spent in Toronto with her young son who, oddly, is mentioned nowhere else in the novel. The Nahal Ha Yarkon exists almost completely unnoticed during a stay in Tel Aviv, while the Oder stands as a distinct national boundary between Germany and Poland on another excursion. The reluctant Nerveta plays a different mediating border role as she journeys by bus across the post-war Balkan landscape of Croatia and Bosnia; the Tsiza in northern Hungary draws treasure hunters and local pleasure seekers to its regularly flood-ravaged shores; and the murky Hooghly that runs through the greater Kolkata municipal district offers unnerving watery transportation as she seeks a location hinted at in an old photograph glimpsed in a city bookseller’s shop. The narrative which begins and ends with the sight of a maddened, proud African man she nicknames The King holding court with a flock of ravens in the park, flows effortlessly between thirty-seven chapters which, on their own, could be read as perfectly contained prose pieces, but together gradually build layers and depth as the narrator’s time in East London draws toward a close.
The book’s apparent proximity to memoir may well help explain its emotional valence. Esther Kinsky was born in Engelskirchen, near Bonn, and spent her early years living along the Rhine River. She studied English and Slavic languages and literature in Bonn and Toronto, and spent over a decade in London before moving to Battayona, Hungary on the Romanian border. Now based in Vienna and northern Italy, she is an accomplished translator of literary works from Polish, Russian and English into German, and the author of three volumes of poetry and three novels. In March 2016, she was awarded the Chamisso Prize, which celebrates the contributions of those for whom German was not their mother tongue, for her entire oeuvre as an acknowledgment of the exceptionally high quality of literary work that can emerge when a translator’s experience with the mediation of culture and language is allowed expression in an authorial capacity. On the surface, her own history shares many basic features with that of River’s narrator who also, at least for a time, takes on work as a document translator. But the latter’s life remains so obscure, with so many details left unspoken, that it is impossible to say how closely their biographies mesh.
It is tempting to read an author into her fiction, especially when a number concurrences appear within a work that is so affectively autobiographical in tone. However, River reads as a work strongly grounded in experience of place, one that allows Kinsky to draw on her own sensitive engagement with the environments she has lived in and visited, and filter them through the eyes of a narrator who seems to belong to none of them. Turn them into stories. The protagonist’s time in Toronto, for example, makes no reference to an educational motive, rather it is a 1970s-inflected meditation on a time of linguistic and spatial disorientation—of being young and far from home—peopled with vivid characters. As one moves further into the narrative, it is increasingly difficult to orient the river-based chapters into any chronology that necessarily ties them to the author’s personal timeline. If it is close or not, we don’t need to know, that is not what is important.
What Kinsky and her narrator clearly do share, however, is a strong affinity for, and attraction to, borders or fringe territories. Riverbanks, roadsides, train platforms, and other transitional spaces reappear throughout Kinsky’s poetry and her prose. This theme has also been noted in her writing about translating. In her book Fremdsprechen: Gedanken zum Übersetzen (Speaking Foreign – reflections on translation), she describes the challenge of negotiating the delicate boundary between one’s own words and life and the words and lives of others. In River, the distinction between the life of the narrator and that of the author shifts in and out of focus, but, freed within the realm of fiction, it is one border Kinsky can navigate at will.
Another distinctive quality of her poetic sensibility that is also especially resonant in this novel is the idiosyncratic way that, through her narrator, she engages with the natural world. She paints with a particular palette—pale muted pastels and endless shades of white, mixed with greys and muddy, earthy tones dominate. Light has an almost tangible texture. Sounds have personality, scents carry weight. Nature as experience. Annelie David has written, regarding the poems that Kinsky situates in nature, that “both plant and animal life play an important role. Not to lament them as a lost world or lose herself in the beauty of nature. To the contrary; nothing in these poems is embellished or made palatable. Nature represents an inner state.”
The same metaphorical tendency is equally evident in River. The narrator’s regular walks along the Lea represent an intentional attempt to gather and archive memories and experiences from the natural world, as if to build a psychological bridge between a life abandoned and one yet to be defined, so as not to leave emptyhanded, one might say. As she understands it, nature, in its contact with human experience, is imbued with an certain sadness. Open marshlands, trees, clouds, birdsong, and the scattered, crumbling debris littering the riverbank all warrant her attentions, await the meaning she will grant them. But “nature” as she finds it is not always what we might expect.
Kinsky’s poetic instincts find particular expression in the way the objects in her narrator’s domestic life—her restless furniture and unpacked removal boxes—and in the heterogenous environment around her, are personified, allowed to become characters in her account, animated extras in her landscapes:
I returned on the path that looped around the filter beds and led back to the river between open terrain and the electric pylons standing by as ever like lost, harmless giants frozen in the flat land, slender, immobile, and delicate, their six arms splayed out to no conceivable purpose underlining their defencelessness or their perplexity over the question of which way they should go next. The more familiar I became with this flat world in the milky winter light, the more I thought of the pylons as parts of the landscape that by some strange quirk of nature had surged out of the ground featherless, hairless and leafless in time immemorial, honest custodians of this intermediate realm between the firm ground and a deceptive alluvial plain that was underwashed by countless waters; they were fine-boned guardians of the void uttering nothing but their spidery buzz and hum, a rarified, highly-pitched song that was only audible in pauses between clattering trains, and which attempted again and again to subvert the city beyond the Lea whenever it drew a deep breath to roar.The meandering narrative is sparked with these inventive observations of the world, urban, rural and industrial. Although the narrator engages in limited, if respectful interactions with the people around her—the thin-lipped Croat who runs a charity shop, the Stollers with their Kosher Egg Store, Greengrocer Katz, the clusters of Jewish school children, and other assorted regulars—she makes no efforts to get closer. She prefers to stitch possible scenarios onto the lives of her neighbours, and, in her wanderings, she often fills in the empty spaces and structures she encounters with imaginary human characters, momentarily fleshed out, breathed into being and then forgotten. Naturally drawn to those who live on the margins, the eccentrics and misfits, her decision to settle within their community affords her a necessary measure of anonymity and she seems to be content to remain the perpetual observer, forever peering into shadows and lighted windows, but crossing few boundaries. She is already beginning to picture herself on the opposite shore of her London existence and with it, her time in England. If, as she says at one point, “all rivers are borders,” there is a sense by which she already belongs to “the gaze toward the other side.”
Marked by its affinity with margins, borders, edges and transition points, Kinsky’s work can be said to be at home in liminal spaces. As such, River itself, as a literary work, exists, as we’ve noted, on the threshold between novel and memoir. The lines are blurred, indistinct, as in the photographs, found and created, that hold such an appeal for her unnamed narrator. And, because the narrator reveals so little about the nature of her recent life, the author’s secrets also remain concealed, holding the designation as fiction unquestionable. Best to simply submit to the laconic, often directionless, drifting narrative, reminiscent of a lazy, slow moving waterway, and remain open to all the possibilities exposed on the journey. This strikes a sharp contrast to Kinsky’s first novel Summer Resort (2009)—translated by her late husband Martin Chalmers and published in English by Seagull Books in 2011—which presents itself as a short, sharp, almost breathless tale of the misadventures of an array of tragicomic characters who gather at a riverside holiday site during an unusually hot, dry Hungarian summer. It unfolds in a rough and rollicking stream of words that often collide to explode to form charged compound constructions. But echoes of the playful imagery, inventive language and sly humour that distinguish her initial outing pulse below the surface of River’s much more sophisticated, mature and contemplative currents. And a river, too, with all the threat and promise it carries, runs through the earlier novel as a preparation of sorts for this later work.
The pathway of the modest Lea and its environs is allowed to take a central, narrative role in River, a novel in which the narrator is at one with the land and its objects, its assorted elements, natural and manmade, and yet oddly distanced from the people around her. This is not a time for personal involvement. By contrast, she seems to feel more comfortable with the brief, transient relationships that develop with people she encounters on her visits to foreign countries such as Sandy, the young hippie mother she befriends during her stay in Toronto; Mi, her housebound neighbour in Tel Aviv; or Mrs. Bose, the corpulent hotel owner she meets on her boat ride down the Hooghly River in Kolkata. But even in these circumstances there is little affection; they are afforded by proximity and, perhaps, curiosity. The single, most enduring presence throughout this book is her father. His camera documented her childhood. His death marks the uncertain timeline of her river-bound reveries. His ghost hovers over the narrative which can, in part, be read as a quiet tribute to “the untiring traveller… with his voracious eyes always hungry for something new, always avid for more, landscapes, towns, rivers, images, a life so full of pictures that he gave up photography.” Through her cameras, her collections and her own restless wanderings, his daughter carries his spirit on.
With River, comparisons to fellow German writer W.G. Sebald are inevitable, and not entirely unwarranted. Like Sebald, Kinsky’s prose has a hypnotic quality, with long, winding sentences that almost seem hesitant to end, and paragraphs that can extend for several pages. Both blur the edges between fiction and nonfiction and incorporate photographs, ambiguous and indistinct, but in Kinsky’s text they appear less frequently and, even then, only at the head of chapters. However, photography plays a much more explicitly defined role in River. The images the narrator takes herself become a critical element of her explorations and attempts to capture the otherness of her present surroundings, while the ones she finds or collects serve as channels to memories and recollections of the past. As such, Kinsky’s narrative is more intimate, private and internal, and yet we learn nothing of what brought her narrator to London, kept her there for so many years, or what has finally called or driven her away. There is a reluctance, a slow and possibly painful letting go of the city—a gradual withdrawal that necessitates her temporary, tentative settlement in this marginal, mixed, neglected edge of London. At the same time, she is intent on collecting the small moments, the sensations, and the insignificant details of this stopover without a need to connect her gathered objects, images and observations to broader arcs of literature or history. Even her remembered sojourns in far flung countries exist in isolation, part of an accumulated life experience within which the only commonality is the presence, somewhere, of a river. The sustained opaqueness of this intimacy is remarkable. Rather than distancing the reader, it encourages reflection, opens up avenues for fresh observations of our own surroundings, however familiar, and inspires renewed appreciation of the small and precious memories we carry with us from our pasts, our childhoods and our travels. - Joseph Schreiber
Esther Kinsky, Summer Resort, Trans. by Martin Chalmers, Seagull Books, 2011.
"Summer Resort", the first novel by noted translator Esther Kinsky, is set in a village somewhere on the endless Hungarian plain. It is the hottest summer in memory, and everyone in the village dreams of the sweet life in Udulo, a summer resort on a river. The characters that populate "Summer Resort" tell stories - comic, tragic, or both - of life in rural Hungary. Tales of onion kings and melon pickers, of scrapyards and sugar beet factories, paint a vivid and human picture of their world. In the course of the novel, the storytellers' paths intersect at the summer resort with the bar owner Lacibacsi, the Kozak Boys and their fat and pale wives, and the builder Antal, who introduces a mysterious new woman to the inhabitants of the resort. The stranger disrupts their otherwise staid summer routines - with surprising, unpredictable consequences. Now available for the first time in English, "Summer Resort" brings to a new audience one of the most distinctive emerging voices in recent German writing.
In her native Germany, Summer Resort (published as Sommerfrische) was the novel that propelled Esther Kinsky - then known for her work as a translator - to literary fame with critics citing her intrinsically poetic use of language to convey the atmosphere of her settings. Summer Resort may rest lightly in one's hands at barely over 100 pages, but the weight of its implications require much more attention from the reader.
The summer in which the novella takes place is one of searing, bone-dry heat enveloping a small Hungarian village on the plains. "Everyone remembers the year of the heat" is how the first chapter opens, and Kinsky proceeds to show how well everyone does, through an intricate interplay of elaborate physical detail with its deeper ramifications. The heat "which penetrated the skull before one knew it" soon entails more than the physical discomfort of the village's residents. Each chapter holds a microcosm of unspoken restlessness that permeates the descriptions of dying dogs and watermelons smashed on the road. This is a rare gem of a book full of lightly veiled complexity. - Noori Passela
Oppressive would certainly be the best word to describe Esther Kinsky's world. Oppressive, hot, sticky, dusty, and incapable of getting itself out of the mud. Any attempt at beauty is promptly shredded until all that is left are traces of bleak, sweltering reality. Kinsky wants her reader to feel the heat in this book, which takes place in the middle of the hottest Hungarian summer in remembrance. Add to that fact that the village in question is seemingly sequestered from any sense of civilization or culture that would usually breathe life into what should be a quaint town. Instead, the village seems to consist only of a brothel, a run down bar and a few parched fields surrounded by railroad tracks. The only glimmer of hope is a single summer resort near the river, attempting to live up its reputation as the symbol of a normal summer.
But even the resort, or üdulo as it is called, has been beaten down by Kinsky's thesaurus, each additional word sucking out any attempt at a happy time. The text is as bogged down by her adjectives as the semi stream-of-consciousness technique she uses, but not in a manner that is detrimental to the text.
The reader feels like they have been thrust into the work, gasping to find a place amidst the other characters, characters so lost that they do what they can to make it to the next day, grasping at what they can reach. For the men, this consists of a guzzle of beer at the local bar after working in the fields, followed by a strut at the brothel, trying to escape their wives who are most often described as masses of flesh, who provide nothing more than presence in a bed used only to straighten out weary bodies. It becomes too difficult to feel anymore; even readers must keep their minds open lest they miss out on an affair, a stroke, a death. The heat, and Kinsky herself, masks even these seemingly important events in the lives of the Onion Men, The Kozak Boys, the New Woman, and the Antal of this town; no one has any energy to even properly react.
Their lives become moments; moments in a brutal summer to help pass the time until September and the cooler weather can settle in. Until then, the characters continue to live their disparate lives, occasionally providing their narrative voice, but never really understanding what it is that brought them to that town and that life. One can only hope that a fresh drizzle of rain will be able to rinse their minds and bodies, but under Kinsky's hand, it is more likely that the characters' lives will just fade into the heat, becoming dust easily swept off the resort porch and forgotten. - C. LaRiviere http://www.belletrista.com/2011/Issue14/reviews_12.php
Soon after I began reading Esther Kinsky’s River I went out in search of a magnifying glass. Early one Sunday, I drove east to the neighbourhood of my childhood and scanned the tables of the flea market, sifting through the mismatched crockery and souvenir ashtrays, the rusted garden tools and mildewed terracotta pots, the war medals, postcards, biscuit tins and children’s toys. I found the magnifying glass at a stall manned by two Russians whom I took to be brothers. The same table where, years ago, I had salvaged a cardboard box of photographs – many of them river scenes – that span the years between 1944 and 1970 and catalogue a Polish family’s births, deaths, marriages and the houses they once called home.
The handle of the magnifying glass bears the years of another’s use, but its lens is clear. With it I scanned the pages of River, paying particular attention to the book’s photographs, following fence lines, railway embankments, deserted roads that turn blindly into the distance, and wooded paths that disappear into a blaze of unexpected eerie light. I thought I was looking for clues; searching for details that were not at first apparent to the naked eye. I noted down metaphors, pursued suggestive allusions, drew connections between one thing and another, and believed I was reading River. But in fact, by looking closely, I was learning to see what was already there: to observe the book’s “fluvial landscape”, to recognise its “estuarine script” and, like the narrator, to discover a tidal universe in “the unremarkable things that lay unheeded by the wayside, things lost and not found, things left behind, unclaimed, thrown aside, going to rack and ruin, beyond retrieval or recognition”.
Kinsky is an heir to Thoreau (she has translated his work into German) and River is shaped by his thought in important ways. The book is an entrancing example of Thoreau’s “discipline of looking always at what is to be seen”. And the unnamed narrator’s “slow and haphazard” walks by the River Lea, her dedication to “walking and looking” as a way of being and belonging in the world recall Thoreau’s 1861 essay, ‘Walking’, in which he describes this “art”, best realised in sauntering, as the ability to be “equally at home everywhere”.
River is a work of fiction, but I hesitate to call it a novel. It has, rather, more in common with W. G. Sebald’s prose narratives which – as Kinsky’s translator Iain Galbraith notes in his introduction to Sebald’s Across the Land and the Water: Selected poems, 1964-2001 – keep “at arm’s length … the generic exactions (plot, character development, dialogue) levied by the more conventional modes of writing fiction”. There are similarities between Sebald’s and Kinsky’s prose works: the wandering narrators, the inclusion of photographs, the affective power of objects, the elemental prominence of water and fire, the emergence of memories in place, the topography of railway lines, bone mills, slaughterhouses and brickworks. These likenesses contribute to the uncanny familiarity of River’s narrative universe and it is due to them that I at first sought to read Kinsky’s book in the way I have learned to read from Sebald: by paying attention to those strange, allusive connections from which his world is woven. But the narrative universe of River – while descended from Sebald’s and Thoreau’s – is very much Kinsky’s own. In it, the narrator “looks always at what is to be seen” and, in doing so, is witness to that which has as yet gone unobserved. So it was that when I went out in search of a magnifying glass, I was also seeking another way of looking at what is to be seen.
*The narrator of River was raised on the banks of the Rhine, which as she tells it was “the first border I ever knew … It taught us what was here and where was there.” Now, after living for many years in central London, she has “excised” herself from that life – “just as one might cut a figure out of a landscape or group photo” – in favour of “a provisional existence” by the Lea and an extended “leave-taking” of the city before her return to the east. Every day, from her temporary flat in London’s north-east, she walks to the river and its interstitial surrounds: beyond Springfield Park and the alder grove at Horse Shoe Point to Walthamstow, Leyton, Hackney and Stratford Marshes, to Hackney Wick, Leamouth and, eventually, the Thames Estuary.
This is fertile ground; territory that has been crossed by Iain Sinclair, Rachel Lichtenstein, Gareth E. Rees, Will Self and Nick Papadimitriou among other psycho-geographers, deep-topographers and writers of place. Like Kinsky, many of these walker-writers are drawn to the liminality of this urban edge. For Sinclair, in London Orbital, the Lea is “a water margin” that feeds his “Hackney dreaming”. In his book Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London, Rees describes the Lea as carving “a border between the modern boroughs of Hackney, Leyton and Waltham Forest, and the historical counties of Middlesex and Essex”. When the river bifurcates, the old Lea (for Kinsky’s narrator, its “wild” arm) “plunges into Hackney Marshes, where she reconnects with a deeper chronology, before the city, before people, when monsters hunted on her banks”. Here, according to Rees, the Lea “remembers herself”.
The Lea is a site of myth, memory and imagination, which in River, is reigned over by the King: a man “conversant with grandeur, but also used to desolation”, missing or deposed from his country of origin who, “in his stark solitude”, commands this enchanted area “between a landscape abandoned to all kinds of wildness, and the city”. The King is witness to the rising and setting of the sun, and his ritual marks the opening and closing of Kinsky’s narrative. River begins at twilight, when the King, encircled by ravens, faces east into the encroaching night. It ends at dawn, with “a great torrent of light” pouring over the King, the ravens and Springfield Park, “glimmering, glistening, sparkling, and finally dissolving in a blinding, golden tremor, in which all that had accompanied [the narrator] in the past months evaporated like a cloud succumbing to sunlight”. Between dusk and dawn, over the course of her extended London leave-taking, the narrator dreams upon the “dark matter” thrown up by the river: “images [that] belonged to a past I could not even be sure was my own, touching on something whose name I must have forgotten, or possibly never knew”.
It is in photographs that the narrator learns to recognise these uncannily familiar images. She carries a Polaroid camera as she walks and photographs “things that were irreconcilable with my previous life in London”:
What came to light when the developer foil was peeled from the black-and-white photo with its countless shades of grey was a memory I did not even know I had. The pictures showed something that lay behind the things the lens had focussed on, things which, for an imperceptible moment in time, the shutter release must have brushed aside. … There was something unquestionably familiar about these landscape scenes … Something waved to me, whispering: Do you remember? You remember, don’t you? from some remote depth within the white-edged surface of the photograph. And right beside it the world of the negative: nocturnal, putting a strange face on things, casting into doubt what belonged to which side, whether it was here or there, right or left.
In River, photographs – and Polaroid photographs especially – belong to the twilit, edgeland dreaming of the Lea. They belong to the place and time of their taking in ways that other kinds of photography do not. Because they are developed in situ, the narrator must take into account the weather conditions when determining how long to wait before peeling the positive image from its negative. And the “instant” nature of the Polaroid allows her to compare its subject against the photograph and its negative at once.
In their dark magic, these photographs both affirm and cast doubt upon the narrator’s Rhineland river teachings: “What [is] here and where [is] there.” In their “countless shades of grey” they “bring to light” the strange nocturnal world of the farther side of myth and imagination. Like the river with its “dark matter”, like the found objects that the narrator gathers as she walks and with which she compiles a “barely decipherable archive of [her] homelessness”, photographs remember what memory has neglected. With its “alien eye”, the camera captures a “wounded landscape”, just as the porcelain manufactured from slaughterhouse bones at Bow retained “a hint of rosiness” and the bricks from which London is built are repositories of “different histories”, drawn from the sediment of the city’s “network of countless rivers”.The rivers of River are many – both arms of the Lea, the Thames, the St Lawrence, the Danube, the Yarkon, the Vistula, the Oder, the Neretva, the Tisza, and the Hooghly – but they all find their source in the Rhine. In his book Water and Dreams, phenomenologist and champion of the elemental imagination Gaston Bachelard describes the influence of the landscapes of childhood – the environments where as children we learn to dream – upon the world we later inhabit:
Dreaming by the river, I dedicated my imagination to water, to clear, green water, the water that makes the meadows green. I cannot sit beside a stream without falling into a profound reverie … It does not have to be the same stream …, water from home. The nameless waters know all of my secrets. The same memory flows from all fountains.
Walking and looking we learn to be at home everywhere. But this home that travels with us is forever inflected by the elemental landscapes of our childhood. Bachelard’s childhood waters are tranquil, the memories they ignite are coloured by his “youthful happiness”. Those of Kinsky’s narrator are considerably more turbulent. For her, all rivers are border zones and conjure the “dislocation, confusion and unpredictability in a world that crave[s] order”, which she first learned to recognise in her Rhineland childhood. To travel on the Rhine was to give oneself up to a “restless, transient land between two riverbanks”. To live alongside it was to inhabit a world prone to floods that “washed away any sense of order”, “clawed at things that seemed fixed and inviolable” and left behind in its wake “dark matter for which we had no name”.
Like the Rhine, the Lea marks an edge. It is just one of the between zones, border lines, no-man’s-lands, gateways, and transitional spaces to which Kinsky and her narrator are drawn. These zones indicate a city’s “scar lines”, and for all the urban drive toward order, they are sites of lingering wildness: “terrain undescribed enough for me to apply my own names to it”. Walking the Lea, taking photographs, collecting found objects, the narrator learns to look at the city in a way that had eluded her during all those years she lived there “under the delusion of belonging”. Here she learns, finally, to give a name to the dark matter of her childhood river.
But belonging – this calling into being – becomes possible only after the narrator leaves her London home for a place where she knows no-one and where “the street names, views, smells and faces were all unfamiliar to me”. Like Thoreau’s ‘Walker Errant’, having left behind family, friends and the known world, Kinsky’s narrator is now “at home everywhere”. And everywhere becomes the transient world of the river, that transitional space between wildness and the city, where the water-bound cosmic reveries of childhood can, and do, live again.
The old, wild Lea “remembers herself” in the deep chronology of her marshland territory. The narrator’s Lea-side walks are also journeys into memory. Along the way – “sticking to the river as if clutching a rope while balancing on a narrow footbridge” – she “rediscovered bits and pieces of [her] childhood, found snippets cut from other landscapes and group photographs, unexpectedly come here to roost”. Soon after arriving in the neighbourhood, she discovers an alder grove at Horse Shoe Point, where curlews, lapwings and bitterns sound their “melancholy calls” and recall her childhood by the Rhine:
This partly mutilated wetland wood with its childhood flowers and wild birds secretly appealing to my memory was my gateway to the lower reaches, to the path downstream that gradually taught me, during the final months of my stay, to find my own names for a city I had already spent many years labouring to decipher – names only walking and looking could force me to extract and reassemble from a web of trickling memories, a debris of stored images and sounds, a tissue of tangled words.
The allusion is clearly to a foundational trauma, which begins to be painfully extracted from a tangle of words and repressed images after the narrator passes through the gateway of a mutilated wood that distinctly recalls the sadness of her grandparents’ generation. And although I am reluctant to read River solely as a Holocaust narrative – for, like Sebald, Kinsky represents the Holocaust as one in an ongoing cycle of human atrocities in which the Bosnian War receives particular emphasis – the book is indelibly marked by the horrors of the Second World War, just as the landscape through which the narrator travels is regularly marked by death.
Pre-war, inter-war and post-war are prefixes that define the physical world of River, as well as the ways in which the book tells time. On her Lea-side walks, the narrator looks for traces of a past that might have survived post-war reconstruction. She travels to Croatia in search of “some kind of key to a post-war condition that refuses to be dismissed, even from the green of the grass, leaves and weeds”. The memories of her Rhineland childhood are coloured as much by “the dream of the Great Straightening of the World” as they are by the river itself. And in north-east London she finds evidence of the re-ordering of the post-war world in the council flats “built on land cleared of war debris”.
The hasty cobbling together of housing in an effort to remove all trace of what lay underneath had been a major feature of my childhood … Buildings were constantly demolished, sites excavated and levelled, and the signs of a past that had gone awry were overlaid with impenetrable crusts. Disintegrating brickwork, in whose nooks and crannies the hair of former residents who had turned to snow still hung in rustling spider webs, was buried under the pale-grey, post-war pressed stone, permitted its return to the earth under new roads. … Here in London the reasons for erasing traces of the past may have been different from those in the country of my childhood, but the unhappiness that inhabited the drab chasms between the houses looked remarkably similar in both.
In the country of the narrator’s childhood, the removal of traces of a past “gone awry” also meant the removal of gardens that had run wild after their “unremembered owners had fled their own names”. The neighbourhood of the River Lea is home to an observant Jewish community who, during the Feast of Tabernacles, “with its rehearsed atmosphere of provisional arrangements and make-believe fragility of dwellings”, celebrate “the opposite of homelessness”. Here, the narrator discovers traces of the levelled past: scar lines, wounded landscapes, porcelain and bricks tinged with slaughter blood, as well as a shoe-heap sold by “the Croat” in aid of victims of the Bosnian War, “fatty soot” left over from the burning of heretics, and a canister of “broken-off gold teeth”.
Walking, looking, learning to see: these are the tenets of River. In her extended daily walks over the same territory, Kinsky’s narrator adopts the “microscopic inner-eye” of Nick Papadimitriou’s deep-topography. As described by Will Self, in Psychogeography, this is a discipline of “minutely detailed, multi-level examinations of select locales”. To borrow further from Thoreau, it is an approach to place that “looks at what is to be seen”, and then looks deeper. Thus, with my salvaged magnifying glass, I hoped to strip back the layers of Kinsky’s photographs, and her words (staggeringly beautiful in Iain Galbraith’s translation from the German), to see beyond the surface to what lay beneath. Perhaps this is the natural development of a way of looking – of learning to see – that has moved from the woods and fields of Thoreau’s ‘Walking’ to the urban edge. But it is also the evolution of a “multi-level examination” of place that must consider what histories, myths and dreams have been built over to placate the post-war condition; what latent memories are waiting to resurface with the flood tide; what dark matter can be named by walking and looking. - Anna MacDonald
Summer means beaches, beer, flirtations, rowdiness. For people in northern climates, the brevity of summer puts people who are in a rush to celebrate on a collision course with nature—with sand, water, heat, bugs, snakes, sudden storms. Written five years earlier than River (which I wrote about in two recent posts), Esther Kinsky’s novel Summer Resort is a condensed story of one very hot summer at an üdülő, or a resort, on an unnamed river in Hungary. The book, which has no real main character, is reminiscent of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, providing a macro view of the village, as if seen from a drone drifting overhead, replete with brief stories that convey the joys and irritations that comprise daily life.
Late in the evening two vehicles crashed at the corner of Main Road and Garageland Lane, a bright blue car and an egg-yolk yellow one, both made of soft pliant metal, the moon was high above the river and was orange, almost golden indeed and shone on the crushed and shifted metal, on the shards and splinters, on the now ruined lustre of journeys begun, on the pale faces of the injured, on whose temples the smile of departure still crouched in shock, it shone on the curiosity-crooked faces of the onlookers, on the last pale pink blooming hollyhock bell on a brown dried-up stand beside the Hotel Oasis where no one looked. So the day came to an end once and for all, and Katica stood on the cracked cement at the edge of the filling station, exactly at the point where the petrol station light and flashing blue light met, one shoulder raised, the other dragged down by her window cleaner’s bag, there she stood, profoundly exhausted by bearing witness to the evening.The world that Kinsky gives us in Summer Resort is stylized, as if it were a world in miniature, housed in a terrarium. Some of the people that live in or are drawn to the üdülő have cartoony names, like the Kozak Boys, the Onion Men, Microphone Man, Ruthwoman (whose real name is Éva), and a group known as the Englishmen, who drown in “the sea of alien incomprehensible, unknowable words.” And then there is the New Woman, another foreigner, who steals Antal from his wife, an act that ends in tragedy. The village where everything takes place is decaying, its former economy shuttered. Its glorious past, when the sugar beet factory was still in operation, is described as:
the great toytime, when a key, which looked almost like a small heart with two holes in it, wound up the world on both sides of the river, so that the route from the earth-brown beet to the white bag of sugar was smooth and flawless, lined by horses, trams, waving fisherman, aproned cleaners with rattling pails, workers with bulging muscles under their blue jackets, with moustaches and laughing mouths, and smoke billowing white from the chimney.But all this is gone now. Instead the village is full of weeds and decaying buildings. There are wild dogs on the loose and perhaps a few too many bars. “Nothing was as it used to be, they said.”
Summer Resort is a lyrical book filled with startlingly fresh imagery. The focus is as much on nature as on the cast of characters that populate the üdülő during the summer. In these respects it foreshadows what Kinsky will do in River, although it’s a much less solemn book, as is hinted at by her choice of an epigraph: “You should’ve wrote a book.” This comes from the title of a song by Dan Reeder, an American-born singer-songwriter and painter who has lived in Germany for decades and whose songs are often irreverent and humorous. But if pressed to say what the book is about, I would say that it’s about words and writing, which is perhaps not surprising, given that Kinsky has published several volumes of poetry and is a long-time translator. While the New Woman often feels that she has “gone astray in the inhospitable language of these parts,” Kinsky adores playing with language, as she does here, when she describes the arrival of a swimmingpull at the house of one of her characters, using a crazy quilt of a sentence that keeps switching vantage points and time:
The swimmingpull arrived, glowing blue, a large round basin that had nothing to do with dust and rust and ashes, a gaudy interloper between the crooked fences of the back yards, and the truck drivers who drove past on the main road stared and spat out of the window when they saw Ruthwoman who, eyes shut, drifted across the calm surface of the water on a brightly coloured airbed.
Esther Kinsky was born in 1956 in Engelskirchen, near Bonn. There she studied both Slavic and English Language and Literature, and has worked since 1986 as a translator of literary texts from Polish, Russian and English. Writers Kinsky has translated include Hanna Krall, Zygmunt Haupt, Aleksander Wat, Magdalena Tulli and Olga Tokarczuk. In addition to her translations, Kinsky has also published her own poetry and short prose texts in diverse literary journals in England, where she lived for many years. The breakthrough for her own work came in 2009 with her first novel »Sommerfrische« (tr: Summer Resort). Since then she has been acknowledged as a literary discovery, in addition to her far-reaching recognition as a literary translator. Kinsky's début was written with the support of a grant from the Robert-Bosch-Foundation, which made research travels in the border regions of Hungary, Romania and Serbia possible. »Sommerfrische« tells the story of a woman who »intrudes« as a stranger into the everyday life of a Hungarian village. The events which the woman and individual villagers experience are embedded in detailed and lyrical still lifes and landscape descriptions. »Kinsky […] sings of this terra incognito in a language which is as inventive as it is beguiling« (»Neue Bücher«, NDR). Two further works have been published which also draw on the author's impressions during her journeys through the south-east European countries: the poetry collection »die ungerührte schrift des jahrs« (tr: The unaffected writing of the year), in which she returns to the world of her first novel, and a novel, »Banatsko«, which will be published in 2011. In 2002 Esther Kinsky received, together with Olga Tokarczuk, the Brücke-Berlin-Prize. In 2009 Kinsky won the Paul-Celan-Prize for her work as a translator, with special attention given her translation of Tokarczuk's novel »Unrast« (tr: Unrest). The author lives in Berlin and Battonya, one of the Hungarian towns she had visited on the border to Romania.