ANDRES LASZLO SR.
ADAPTED BY ANDRES LASZLO JR.
My father wrote three major novels, of which this was the first. The other two - especially My Uncle Jacinto but also Paco Neer Fails - went on to become successful movies and Mother Unknown was about to be turned into a screen adaptation too at my father's demise. However, that never happened, and as I've turned the text into English while adapting it, I have done so with the intention of not only giving the text a proper content editing (something Plaza Janez never did) but also making it more attractive for producers. Much of the action is set in Tangier during World War II. the rest in Naples, Paris & Avila. Buy the book. VIDEO
Tangier during World War Two - less than five minutes from Gibraltar as the rocket flies - a large town or maybe a small city. Whatever it was, it remained outside the war and the world order that so much of Europe was forced to subject itself to, yet not outside the whirlwind of plots that surrounded it. This is the scene on which the curtain rises for act one of my father’s first (and only, yet not filmatized) major novel. Tangier, however, is only the setting that Andres Laszlo Sr.’s has chosen to get this drama started.
Tangier forms the orchestral background against which the first part of this tumultuous story is set: A backdrop that plays excellently well against the vigorous figure of Kurt, the protagonist of the story. Kurt’s presence in Tangier during World War II can be best explained as an escape, resonating with Senior’s own escape from the war and his military service (an escape he was imprisoned for). Guided by his fierce desire for independence, Kurt seems destined never to settle down anywhere, and maybe that's the reason why he has never allowed the ivy of affection to entangle his heart. He lives for his art, sculpturing, but only as long as it satisfies him. However, then one day this man - who has sworn never to leave a single track in the snow, or to get subjected to anyone’s will, other than his own and the marble's - suddenly finds that not only has he left such a track, but also that it has caught up with him, and there is no doubt whatsoever as to whether the boy is his.
One night, an anonymous hand leaves a letter and a three- or four-year-old boy at his door. “Lieber Kurt, I’ve sent you your son…” says the letter. Where there should have been a signature, there’s nothing but emptiness, and it’s precisely the silence of this emptiness that prompts this great drama in our protagonist’s life. The man who had sworn off all memories, all scraps of love and affection, finds himself enslaved by the necessity to retrieve a long-forgotten fragment of his past, only he doesn’t know which.
Totally different from his previous works – El Castello de las Focas and La Rapsodia del Cangejo – this novel shows a new side of my Andres Laszlo's personality. This is a side that captivates us with its dynamic descriptions and lively dialogue, and it foreshadows his next two great novels: My Uncle Jacinto and Paco Never Fails that both became movies. This book too was about to be turned into a film at his/my father’s demise. The boy, by the way, is a carbon copy of myself (Andres Laszlo Jr.), which is kind of spooky as I wasn’t born until long after this text was first published. Also, my thoughts – for better or for worse – have been allowed to influence this translation, making it “an adaptation.” Jose Janes/Andres Laszlo Jr.
ANDRES LASZLO SR.
ADAPTED BY ANDRES LASZLO JR.
It must have been close to 10 p.m. - the Guinean had just left for the pantry to get another bottle - when the doorbell rang. The men looked at each other, surprised and startled because in this house an unexpected visit virtually always meant bad news. The idea that perhaps the detective had decided to bother them again crossed both of their minds, but they both knew that Miniti had his own key and wasn’t in the habit of ringing. Of course, perhaps the detective had rung the bell out of discretion, seeing that it was a public holiday, but that didn’t seem very likely. The sculptor shrugged his shoulders whilst the Guinean headed towards the garden door, picking up the key that was hanging on the wall.
Irritated, Kurt threw his chisel and hammer into a corner, proceeding to his bedroom where he took off his dress coat, put on a jumper and wrapped a handkerchief around his neck, before leaving for his meeting with the unexpected visitor.
Then, as he entered the studio, he stopped dead, as if beholding a ghost. The Guinean had returned through the front door, leading a young blond boy by the hand. There was a great big smile on the cannibal’s face, “It’s a little you!”
The little one’s features were lit up by a polite smile that looked as if it was trying to copy that of the cannibal’s but without too much success. The child’s gaze fixed itself calmly on the sculptor, as it held out an envelope that he was carrying in his right hand.
Kurt, who, with a broad smile on his face, first had taken a few steps towards the new arrival, stopped dead in his tracks at the Guinean’s remark: he stopped dead because it was obvious that this was not “any” little boy. It felt as if there wasn’t a single drop of blood left in his veins, because, albeit a miniature version, this young boy was indeed none other than himself. Finally, once he had recovered a little, he managed to ask in a hoarse and strange voice, “How has he ended up here?”
“I don’t know,” the Guinean answered, before quickly adding, “but someone must have brought him – he wouldn’t have been able to reach the bell, I checked – but when I got to the door, he was already alone.”
“You didn’t see anyone else?”
“Nobody, and I looked everywhere.”
The sculptor pulled the child a little closer and, although, in a way he would very much have liked to hold it in his arms, he found himself just staring at it, uneasily. Finally, he asked in French, “Who are you looking for?”
The child’s response was to hold out the letter. Then Kurt asked the same question again, first in Spanish, then in English and so finally in Italian, each time only succeeding in making the child reach out his hand further and further towards him. As he finally took the letter, the first thing he noticed was that his address was written in German. He ripped open the envelope and read:
Lieber Kurt, I’ve sent you your son, who is my only reason for living. I won’t write who I am, nor am I able to tell you the reason why I must give him up because if I did, you would inevitably figure out who I am; a secret that I want and will keep for the good of all of us. You said, maybe as a joke, that having a son would make you happy if only you didn’t have to put up with the presence of a mother, do you remember? Well now you have precisely that, and I would very much like you to get along together. I have never managed to get close to him, despite trying everything humanly possible. He’s never known anyone besides me, but he has always been and continues to be, a very strange boy. Love him if you can, and, if you can, love him for me as well.
Thoughtfully and carefully Kurt put the letter, that had been written in atrocious German, in his pocket and, trembling, he looked down at the smiling little…. His hand began to reach out towards its curly hair to ruffle it, a gesture that perhaps would have turned into a hug, but, on their way, his hand changed its trajectory and instead it reached for the child’s coat, helping it to take it off.
“Danke schön,” said the new arrival politely in Kurt’s native tongue: a language that he’d already begun to forget.
I’ll get used to him, Karl said to himself, determinedly and, sort of suddenly, looking around himself for something to do, but all there was to do, was only something to undo: the isosceles triangle that the three of them that had formed in the middle of the room. As he borrowed a smile from his companions, he suddenly realized that his guest might be hungry.
He gestured to the Guinean to follow him, took the little boy by the hand and led them to the kitchen. There he seated the child at the head of the table, before putting everything in the house that was edible on top of it. Kurt didn’t feel comfortable talking in German to the child, so it was in silence that he offered it cold meats, tinned food, and smoked fish, all whilst the Guinean made coffee, which was the only hot drink that he knew how to prepare.
Without any apparent reason Kurt had started to feel so troubled and out of his comfort zone that he felt incapable of finishing even the simplest of thoughts; he was gritting his teeth with such force that his jaws started to hurt and out his throat was so dried out that he had to make a real effort just to swallow. Whilst the child rejected one of the table’s treasures after the other, its gaze - even if it occasionally for a moment or two would fixate on the Guinean or on some of the few strange pieces of furniture – would always, insistently, return to its silent father.
We’ll have to buy chocolate and milk; I’ll send the Guinean out to look for some, he thought. “And get some rice as well,” he added, now in a loud shrill voice, at first not realizing that until now he had been talking only inside his head. Then he added, ‘And from tomorrow, we’ll teach him French so that we have some way of communicating.’
Despite not being the brightest of cannibals, the Guinean had understood the unspoken instruction that he was to get some milk, so he washed a bottle and then disappeared in a hurry, leaving father and son alone for their first téte-a-téte.
The silence became even thicker, and the scrutinizing gaze of the child soon became almost unbearable. In order not to have to answer to those eyes, Kurt began to open tins of different fruit jams, with a zeal that to an observer, even to a moderately retarded cannibal, would have seemed somewhat exaggerated. If he would eat, perhaps he wouldn’t stare at me like that, was the thinking behind the frenzied opening of the jars. This thinking was followed by the recollection that in the wardrobe of his bedroom he kept a tin of pineapple, his own favorite treat; a difficult commodity to get one’s hands on these days indeed, even if only in a tin and a treasure that he had saved for the day when he’d finish his Hercules. He went to get the tin, and, once opened, he offered it to the boy. Unexpectedly, the child nodded enthusiastically, a response to which Kurt replied by filling the plate to the brim. With an enthusiasm that could not be properly described by any other word than ‘charming,' the child reached out for its cutlery and began to eat with surprising skill for a child of its age, and it did so despite that it could only just reach the table.
As the child ate, it gave Kurt the opportunity to examine his newfound relative more carefully. The similarities between them were nothing short of astonishing, frightening almost: their hands were the same, the form of their ears identical the shape of their necks was a perfect match too, and the shape of their skulls… It was incredible.