January 27, 2014
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Magdalena Zyzak's novel The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel has been described as "Dostoevsky conflated with Woody Allen," and is a wildy imaginative farce told as modern folktale.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Zyzak’s unique storytelling style evokes the timeless magic of a fairy tale, even as her colorful characters and eye for the absurd break that convention into distinctly modern pieces."
During the writing of The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel, I started listening to national anthems. National anthems are intended with profound unselfconsciousness and must be taken literally.
I found this quite moving, from the Hungarian anthem:
"Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians / Who are tossed by waves of danger… / On the sea of misery."
The American anthem, in the interest of liberty and justice for all, advises fear and death be equally exacted upon both paid and unpaid laborers:
"No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave…"
As a novelist, economy of language is important to me. Japan's entire anthem is only 32 kanji long, wastes none of them, and contains a curious notion of mineral ecology:
"May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss."
My fellow Poles, having long been at the center of Europe and uncertain of a great many things, including national identity, seem certain that, if nothing else:
"We shall be Polish. / Bonaparte has given us the example."
I enjoy the anthem of Monaco for its honesty and subtle agnosticism:
"We are not very powerful, / But if he wants to, God will help us!"
Finally, Gabon's anthem, which I've been listening to on repeat lately, gets at what pretty much everyone feels at some point or another:
"Come for us at last, rejoice our hearts, / And banish the sorcerers, those perfidious deceivers."
As we move beyond nationalism into the global era, I propose some combination of the best lines of anthems from the bygone nationalist era, a sort of multicultural International Anthem, designed to promote universal love, peace, and environmentalism. Something like:
Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians
who are tossed by waves of danger
on the sea of misery.
We are not very powerful,
but if he wants to,
God will help us,
come for us at last,
rejoice our hearts,
and banish the sorcerers,
those perfidious deceivers.
Until the pebbles grow into boulders
lush with moss,
we shall be Polish:
Bonaparte has given us the example…
Magdalena Zyzak and The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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