Academic journal article Chicago Review

From Im Grenzland (in the Borderland)

Academic journal article Chicago Review

From Im Grenzland (in the Borderland)

Article excerpt

Im Grenziand is the story of a Kurdish man who comes into possession of a map of landmines planted during the war in the no man's land at the border. With this map, the smuggler is able to negotiate a path through the border region and bring back rarities that have become luxury items because of an embargo against the country. The smuggler finds less success, however, in negotiating the labyrinth of secret police and armed forces when he learns of his son's involvement with Islamic fundamentalism.


He tried hard to hide his fear, especially from his buyers. He delayed the next tour as long as he could. He came up with excuses, got sick, had to take a short trip. But it just isn't possible to hide for long in a small city. Finally he had to take off, without having imagined a satisfactory resolution to this horrible situation.

Contrary to his expectations, everything went fairly well. When he came upon the boot tracks they had almost blown away, as if something had closed over the changes that had shocked him. The gray earth that had held their imprint appeared to have tightened, smoothing out the impression. Of course the smuggler did not forget what the footprints meant. But he wanted to be reassured that all that was now past, and since it was quiet again and only the wind surrounded him, a calm light mood did in fact set in.

Only the next time or the time after that did it all come back to him again. He had been on the road long enough by now to remain calm and concentrate at the same time. The night was mild. The wind was strong and seemed to change direction every ten minutes. That annoyed him because he could hardly hear anything else.

He remembered how he had looked at the dark river which that night seemed to him like an enormous solid shape; the longer he stared at it, the more motionless it became. His glance wanted to stay glued to the surface of this creature. Back then he could still hear the village dogs before he went on. By the time the cliff plateau came into view, he had long since sunk into his isolation, into the sound of his steps and his own breathing. The horror that would turn him to stone the next moment only became apparent after a second glance. The smuggler had been riveted on the dark outlines of the cliff as he looked up and ahead along the path. The cliff was simply his biggest obstacle. Out of the corner of his eye he had become aware of a protrusion by the side of the road, perhaps two hundred meters away. He looked in that direction, then turned away again. He forced himself to look once more. He approached and it remained what it had appeared to be from a distance-a leg growing up out of the ground. It was unnaturally thin, as if the earth had swallowed a large doll head first. The shoe on the end of the leg was clearly recognizable.

As he stood in front of it, the wind enveloped him in the last of the sweet odor of decay. What irritated him was the slightly bent twig on which the shoe had been skewered. Someone had shoved the twig far enough into the ground that it stood upright. The smuggler looked at the misshapened, earth-colored leather shoe with its open buckles hanging down. It wasn't so much the horror of it that disgusted him as it was the comical air about it. This leg on the side of the road looked like something children would put up to shock adults. The smuggler immediately felt like this sick joke was meant for him. He took it as an invitation to play.

That night he kept going, almost out of spite. At least now he knew something about the humor of these nameless people. But now he felt as if he were being observed by them, yes, even followed. At each step he expected new signs of their presence, perhaps another body part from the corpse. But he found nothing more, and on the way back the skewered shoe was still there.

At first the smuggler told no one about this. But that only reinforced his feeling that it was meant strictly for him. …

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