West on Books: Visiting the Lost Villages of Central Europe
By Richard West
In Fado, Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk writes not of Portugal’s national songs of lost love but Central and Eastern Europe’s lost villages seldom visited by travelers. Should you happen upon the mining village of Rudnany in Slovakia, a Hogarthian jumble of the poor, you’d find a thousand or so gypsies living at the bottom of an enormous earthen pit no longer excavated for minerals looking “as if they’d been thrown there at the whim of some malicious demiurge” writes Stasiuk.
Who knew Romania’s Danube delta resembled “Africa in Europe,” with catfish large as sharks, tropical swamps, a primal mud-and-reed landscape? Or fossorial villages in Albania where the only evidence of modernity are battery-powered flashlights and transistor radios and rubber boots, villages that smell the same as they did a thousand years ago–bonfire smoke, sheep manure, cheese?
“What, for example, will replace the immortal horse harness…the coat of arms in these parts…the herds of cows returning at dusk…?” writes Stasiuk about many of the small communities he visits.
“Fado” takes the reader far off the usual travel gerbil trails into places that seem to have been impervious to all our modern amenities and advances. No attempts even at imitation. Indifference perhaps. The same sun falling on the same landscape.
Fado, Andrzej Stasiuk (Dalkey Archive, 156 pgs., $13.95).