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Without Waking Up


Author: Carolina Schutti
Translator: Deirdre McMahon

Sifting through memories, simple scenes nestled into one another like her own beloved wooden doll, the Matryoshka, Maja struggles to unearth her identity. She is marked by a lingering absence – of homeland, mother tongue, mother, warmth. Raised in an unfamiliar country by her taciturn aunt, Maja has brief moments of connection with her fading past such as through her childhood friendship with Marek, a Polish refugee with his own stories of love and loss in the face of war and displacement.

An adult Maja finds herself again and again on the outside of her relationships with others, and with herself. This poetic, yet unadorned, account invites an open-ended exploration of the relationship between language and identity.

‘A mesmerizing book from a masterful writer, translated with all the quiet power of the original.’ Jen Calleja

‘Dreamy, lyrical and richly evocative, Without Waking Up is a Matryoshka doll of a novel, revealing itself slowly but powerfully. I hope to read more of Schutti’s work in English.’ Jan Carson

‘A profound novel of postwar Europe. Schutti’s prose rings with a stonecutter’s precision in this story of wartime displacement and its long aftermath. Her characters are deeply engraved by languages and cultures from which they have been estranged and which renders them strangers in their country of refuge. With authenticity and great insight, Schutti captures the bewilderment of lives dismembered by war and the longing for rememberment.’ Alice Lyons, author of Oona

‘An achingly beautiful book. Tender and disquieting. A delicate weave of hope and loss that lingers long after reading.’ Danielle McLaughlin

Without Waking Up is a tender excavation of roots, belonging and identity. Schutti is a storyteller of rare talent whose book has finally found the expert translation it deserves.’ Annemarie Ní Churreáin

  Maja’s memory focuses on the moment when she had entered the house for the first time. Her father went ahead of her and sat at the bare wooden table; Maja stayed standing in the doorway and didn’t understand what her aunt wanted from her.
  Don’t just stand in the doorway, she must have said; that’s what her aunt always says whenever Maja leans against the doorframe, waiting for her aunt to thrust the tea towel into her hand or point at the kitchen dresser with her chin when it is time for Maja to set the table.
  It was dusky in the room; Maja had counted the little windows – adzin, dva, try – she could already count to ten but there were only three. Three little windows in thick stone walls, a wood-panelled ceiling. A lamp with a linen shade above the dining table gave out a feeble light. Her aunt turned her back to her and rattled cutlery; something was cooking on the stove. Maja didn’t recognize the smell rising from the pot and couldn’t even decide whether it was pleasant or not. She stood, rooted in the doorway, looking in turn from her father to her aunt and back again. Her father’s face was half in shadow. No one was looking at her, her aunt placed a glass of milk on the table in front of her father, then stirred the saucepan; her father was staring at the tabletop. Well then, he said. And he repeated, well. After a time that seemed endless to Maja, her aunt took a step or two towards her. Maja stood in front of the flower-patterned skirt of her apron; her aunt wiped her wet hands on it and pushed her towards the table. Maja sat down opposite her father, watching as he drank his milk. He had visited her in the children’s home; the matron led Maja to understand that he was her father and this father took her for a walk and treated her to ice cream – strawberry ice cream. When they returned to the home, Maja stood in the middle of the playroom. Strawberry ice cream, she shouted, pointing to her mouth and her dress which was flecked with pink spots. A girl stood in front of her, ran her tongue over Maja’s lips, then the screaming began, and a care worker came in looking severe and, without a word, grabbed the girl under the arms and carried her out of the room.
  Sometime later the same care worker had packed a few pieces of clothing into a bag with the Matryoshka on top, put Maja’s shoes on her and pushed her outside the door to where her father was waiting. She had to go with him because her mother was lying under the ground and her father was going to look after her.
  Maja’s aunt put a glass of warm milk in front of her, sprinkled a little cocoa powder into it, stirred it noisily and gestured for her to drink. She sat down with them, looked at Maja, then stretched out her arm and patted the child’s head.
  Whatever will be, will be, she said.
  Her father said nothing.

Original language: GermanISBN: 9781739842321Format: Paperback, E-BookPages: 136Weight: 186 g