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12 Swiss Books – 2015

An Instinctive Feeling of Innocence

an instinctive feeling of innocence
das primäre gefühl der schuldlosigkeit



Awarded the 2015 3sat-Prize at
the Ingeborg Bachmann Competition






DANA GRIGORCEA, born in Bucharest in 1979, studied German and Dutch philology in Bucharest and Brussels. Her first novel, Baba Rada. Das Leben ist vergänglich wie die Kopfhaare, was published in 2011. She has received grants for her work from the city and the canton of Zürich. PHOTO © Ayşe Yavas


Victoria has recently returned to her home town of Bucharest and then things start
to happen thick and fast. The bank she works in is robbed – whether or not she played a part is not yet clear. Did she perhaps send the security guards home too early? The police will have to settle this question and Victoria is suspended from her job until they do. So now she has time to re-discover the Bucharest of her youth: she strolls through those neighbourhoods and encounters people she has not seen in years. There is, for example, Codrin or ’Dinu’, her neighbour when they were children, then her lover for a time, who now works as a stunt man. Memories resurface of the bizarre tenants in the apartment building where Victoria grew up, of a strange Gene-ral and of the pharmacist Aristita, who took a taxi to work every morning and home every evening, or of the old family friend Rapineau who wanted to watch black and white television in colour and so glued sheets of coloured cellophane onto the screen. And finally there is Flavian, Victoria’s boyfriend, just named head of the Institute for City Planning.
In her novel An Instinctive Feeling of Innocence, the Romanian-born writer Dana Grigorcea paints a series of extraordinarily colourful pictures. With much good humour and wit, she describes a world full of myriad surprises and where the new still contains a great deal of the old – a world bursting with character and spirit.

TITLE Das primäre Gefühl der Schuldlosigkeit
PUBLISHER Dörlemann, Zürich
ISBN 978-3-03820-021-5
TRANSLATION RIGHTS Sabine Dörlemann, s.doerlemann@doerlemann.com


German original (p. 7-9)

Ein metallenes Schimmern, von dem anstehenden Gewitter herrührend, tilgt das Relief der Stadt und lässt sie zu einer gemalten Kulisse werden, so wie jene im Fotostudio Diamandi, in dem meine mondäne Großmutter die ominöse Aufnahme von sich als erster Bukaresterin in kurzem Rock machen ließ, am Arm meines Großvaters, der, ungeduldig, samt Spazierstock und Gangsterhut, in die Unschärfe der Zeit hinaustritt.
Jetzt, im aufziehenden Sturm, erscheint Bukarest ohnehin wie eine Nostalgie-Kulisse, eine, vor der keine Pose unpassend wirkt – ganz im Gegenteil, würde ich sagen.
Ich setze mich auf die marmorne Treppe vor der Nationalen Spar- und Anlagebank und rauche die allerletzte Zigarette, bevor ich definitiv mit dem Rauchen aufhören werde – ganz bewusst die Tatsache missachtend, dass dabei zwei weitere Zigaretten übrig bleiben werden im Päckchen und mich die in meinem Beruf unabdingbare Disziplin zwingen wird, angefangene Sachen immer schön abzuschließen. Die Ruhe für eine letzte Zigarette ist mir aber nicht vergönnt. »Küss die Hand, Fräulein Direktorin, mit ihrer Erlaubnis gehen wir jetzt, bevor es stürmt. Ihre Kollegen gehen auch.«
Unser Chef-Sicherheitsmann nennt fast alle Kollegen Direktor oder Direktorin. Das ärgert nicht einmal die, die es tatsächlich sind und die sich, laut unserer Direktorin für Teambildung und Angleichung an Europäische Standards, vom Rest der Angestellten wenn, dann nur durch die Tat-sache unterscheiden sollten, dass sie auf Betriebsausflügen den Fisch mit der Hand essen dürfen.
Den Chef-Sicherheitsmann selbst nennen wir nur »Chef«. Schließlich streben wir eine flache Hierarchie an.
War ich es, die den Sicherheitsleuten die Erlaubnis gab zu gehen? Die Polizeiakte wird das offenlassen.
Ich stehe draußen vor der großen Schiebetür, abgewendet von den in den Feierabend hinausziehenden Kollegen, ziehe den Rauch tief ein und wieder aus, sehe der bläulichen Wolke nach, einen halben Meter hoch, sehe darin das Museum für Nationalgeschichte gegenüber; ein Schritt nach hinten würde den Rauchalarm auslösen.
Vorbeifliegende Blätter und Äste scheinen die Distanz zur weiter unten liegenden Passage in immer kleinere Segmente teilen zu wollen. Flavian wartet dort auf mich. Einen Tag zuvor war er zum Vorsitzenden des Rumänischen Instituts für Urbanistik ernannt worden – eine kleine Sensation. »Weil es niemand sonst übernehmen wollte«, sagte mir Flavian am Telefon. Wie dem auch sei, wir wollen es feiern.


Excerpt translated by Tess Lewis

A metallic sheen caused by the impending storm flattens the relief of the city and turns it into a painted backdrop just like the one in the Diamandi photographic studio, where my glamorous grandmother had had the fateful picture taken of her as the first woman in Bucharest to wear a short skirt. The portrait shows her on the arm of my grandfather, who, complete with walking stick, gangster-style fedora and impatient look, materializes from the haziness of time.
In any case, Bucharest looks now, in the approaching storm, like a nostalgic backdrop, in front of which no pose would appear out of place — exactly the opposite, I’d say.
I sit down on the marble steps of the National Savings and Investment Bank and smoke my very last cigarette before giving up smoking for good — quite consciously disregarding the fact that there will be two cigarettes left in the pack, which will compel me to exert the inflexible discipline of my professional life and neatly wrap up anything I’ve started. However, I’m not granted enough peace and quiet for a last cigarette. “My respects, Director, Ma’am, but with your permission, we should leave now, before the storm breaks. Your colleagues are leaving too.”
Our chief security officer calls almost all his colleagues “Director, Sir” or “Director, Ma’am”. This doesn’t even annoy those, who actually are directors and who, according to our Director of Teambuilding and Alignment with European Standards, should only be differentiated from the rest of the employees by the fact that they are allowed to eat fish with their hands on company outings.
We just call our chief security officer “Chief”. After all, we’re striving for a level hierarchy.
Was I the one who gave the security people permission to go? The police files will leave that open.
I stand outside, in front of the large sliding door, my back to my colleagues, who are heading off to enjoy some free time. I inhale the smoke deeply and blow it out again, watch the blue cloud float a few feet off the ground and, through it, see the Museum of National History across the street. One step backwards would set off the smoke alarm.
As they fly past, the leaves and twigs seem to want to break up the distance to the passageway below me into smaller and smaller segments. Flavian is waiting for me there. The day before, he was named head of the Institute for City Planning — a small sensation. “But no one else wanted the position anyhow,” Flavian told me on the phone. Be that as it may, we want to celebrate.

“All the elements of good literature come together in this book: humour, comedy, tragedy, poetry, melancholy, sadness, misery and love.”

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