July 14, 2008

Dino Buzzati's Wooden Door

"Here we are," whispered Gaspari. "Now I go forward with the plank."
       Whereupon, holding the board in his hands, he let himself fall slowly into the middle of the bushes, closely followed by the boys. Without the enemy being aware of them, they succeeded in reaching the desired point.
       But here Gaspari stopped short, as if absorbed in thought (the cloud still hung over them and from afar came a plaintive cry like a wail). What a queer turn of events, he thought -- only two hours ago I was in the inn, with my wife and the children, seated at table; and now I am in this unexplored land, thousands of miles away, fighting with savages.
       Gaspari looked around him. No longer was there a little valley suitable for boys' games, nor were there ordinary hills like cakes, nor was there the road that led up the valley, or the inn, or the red tennis court. He saw below him huge cliffs, different from any he remembered, that fell away endlessly toward waves of forests; he saw beyond that the quaking reflection of deserts; and still farther on he perceived other lights, confused signs indicating the mystery of the world. And here in front of him, on top of the cliff, was a sinister fortified town; gloomy walls supported it crookedly and the flat roofs were crowned with skulls, gleaming in the sunlight, skulls that seemed to be laughing. The country of curses and myths, of intact solitudes, the ultimate truth granted in our dreams!
       A wooden door (which did not exist) stood ajar; it was covered with mysterious signs, and groaned at every puff of wind. Gaspari was the closest to it, perhaps two feet away. He began to raise the plank slowly, so as to let one end of it drop on the opposite bank.
       "Treachery!" shouted Sisto at that very moment, perceiving the attack, and jumped to his feet, laughing, armed with a great bow. When he spied Gaspari he stopped for a moment, surprised. Then he drew a wooden arrow out of his pocket, a harmless shaft; he fitted it into the cord of his bow and took aim.
       But meanwhile from the half-open door covered with obscure signs (which did not exist) Gaspari saw a wizard come out, all scaly with leprosy and hell. He saw him draw himself up to a great height, his eyes gazing with a soulless stare, a bow in his hand, drawn back with infernal force. Gaspari let go of the plank then, and drew back in alarm. But the other had already shot his arrow.
       Struck in the chest, Gaspari fell among the bushes.

--Dino Buzzati, from "The Bewitched Businessman," trans. Sarah Gibbs. Included in an Avon mass-market paperback anthology, The Uncommon Reader, 1965. I love that international literature made it to US readers in countless little paperbacks. I recently found a "horror" anthology which also included a Buzzati story.

Buzzati was also an artist, and the image above is his. Also see these links: one, two, three.

I plan to post often about Buzzati.


  1. All I know about Buzzati is that his The Tartar Steppe appeared in Borges personal library. There's a quote on the back of the UK edition from him citing it as sheer brilliance.

  2. The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily is also most excellent. A childrens' book, I'm told.

  3. Restless Nights, by Buzzati, published by Carcanet Press in 1984, contains 23 stories. Most of them are in fact excellent. He is compared to Kafka, Robert Walser, Borges, and Donald Barthelme. A hard to find book.

  4. I've been struggling not to post about the two books of stories published (in America at least) by North Point as "Restless Nights" and "Siren." I discovered that Buzzati's estate will now only allow publication of story collections authorized by the author in his lifetime (and these two English-language collections were selected by the translator, Lawrence Venuti), so the books will almost-certainly never be reprinted. And "Restless Nights" especially is indeed hard-to-find. So it seems cruel on my part... though I love them so maybe I'll do it anyway!

    Apparently One World may have managed to strike a deal with the estate, because they told me they plan to reprint Calder's Buzzati collection, Catastrophe and Other Strange Stories. Cross your fingers.

  5. That's great news about 'Catastrophe'--I really, really REALLY hope they bring that book out. I loved 'The Tartar Steppe', but I've never seen anything else by him in any bookshop, new or second-hand.

  6. OneWorld did reprint Roussel's Locus Solus. I thought for sure they were just toying with us when they announced it. So anything's possible.

    I'm embarrassed to admit that I actually photocopied Catastrophe from the library.

    Keep your eye out for Buzzati's Siren -- it still turns up for cheap in used bookstores.

  7. I will seek out 'Siren'.
    Also, I meant to ask you before: on my blog, I'd love to do a look at the various covers for 'Jakob...': would it be allowed for me to use the cover you scanned of your first English edition? I'd include a link here, with explanation.

  8. Go for it! Your Ronald Searle series is incredible.