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Excerpts from Portrait of the Emperor

This is from the first chapter/story of Angélica Gorodischer’s novel/collection of stories Kalpa Imperial. It is translated by Urusla K. Le Guin.

The storyteller said: Now that the good winds are blowing, now that we’re donw with days of anxiety and nights of terror, now that there are no more denunciations, persecutions, secret executions, and whim and madness have departed from the heart of the Empire, and we and our children aren’t playthings of blind power; now that a just man sits on the Golden Throne and people look peacfully out of their doors to see if the weather’s fine and plan their vacations and kids go to school and actors put their heart into their line and girls fall in love and old men die in the beds and poets sing and jewelers weigh gold behind their little windows and gardeners rake the parks and young people argue and innkeepers water the wine and teachers teach what they know and we storytellers tell old stories and archivists archive and fishermen fish and all of us can decide according to our talents and lack of talents what to do with our life—now anybody can enter the emperor’s palace, out of need or curiosity; anybody can visit the great house which was for so many years forbidden, prohibited, defended by armed guards, locked, and as dark as the souls of the Warrior Emperors of the Dynasty of Ellyodróvides. Now any of us can walk those wide, tapestried corridors, sit down in the courtyards to listen to the fountain run, go into the kitchen to cadge a doughnut from a fat, grinning cook’s helper, pick a flower in the gardens, admire ourself in the mirror galleries, watch maids go by with baskets full of clean laundry, tickle the foot of a marble statue with an irreverent finger, say good morning to the crown prince’s tutors, smile at the princesses playing ball on the lawn; and go on to the door fo the throne room and say to him, for instance, “Sir, I love plays, but my own town doesn’t have a theater. Do you think you might tell them to build one?”...

[i skip over a nice vignette of what a true benevolent ruler looks like, one who listens, talks, and loves theater]

Long is the history of the Empire, very long, so long that a whole life dedicated to study and research isn’t enough to know it wholly. There are names, events, years, centuries that remain dark, that are recorded in some folio of some archive waiting for some memory to rescue them or some storyteller to bring them back to life, in a tent like this, for people like you, who’ll go back home thinking about what you heard and look at your children with pride and a little sadness. As well as being long, the history of the Empire is complex: it’s not a simple tale in which one thing happens after another and the causes explain the effects and the effects are in proportion to the causes. Nothing of the kind. The history of the Empire is strewn with surprises, contradictions, abysses, deaths, resurrections. And I tell you now that those stones lying in an unused room of the emperor’s palace are, precisely, death. And resurrection.

For the Empire has died many times, many deaths, slow or sudden, painful or easy, silly or tragic—died and re-arisen from its death… Somebody strangled the empress in her bed and stabbed her children to death, though it was said that one girl escaped the slaughter. From the bogs and forests of the south came hordes of the dispossessed, sacking the cities, improving on the confusion left in the wake of the armies. IN the north a charlatan said heavenly voices ordered him to proclaim himself emperor and kill all who opposed him, and unfortunately many did. Within months was was everywhere, a war in which men ended up not knowing and not wanting to know who they were fighting against, in which it wasn’t a matter of kill or die but kill and die…

 

Comments

I should thank G for cleaning this up, or at least blockquoting it and providing the link.

No thanks nessa. I haven’t even had time to read it, yet…

we are off to the in-loves for the weekend.

this book is going to kill me yet, as i can only work on it between the hours of 10 and 5 in the morning, practically… everything is daughter care and food buying and cooking and cleaning.

Hmmm… How do you recommend the latenight writing lifestyle?

there really is no other way to get things done… i just wish it were poetry, at times.

but, since i’ve all together stopped reading poetry, and stopped writing it, it won’t be for a while… but maybe someday again.

The poetry will come back, sometime.

I’d really like to have a way to visually indicate that months have passed since the last comment.

Anyway, I’m in the middle of the story about the expansion of cities, which is nicely opaque. “The Natural History of Ferrets” is traditional, and powerful. Is Gorodischer’s language as measured and fantastical as Le Guin’s?