Category Archives: Mary B. Tolusso

The Art of Detachment

L’esercizio del distacco: a novel by Mary B. Tolusso, which hasn’t been translated into English. A masterpiece. My translation of the first page of the Danish translation:

Everyone has experienced moments of absolute happiness that they shouldn’t have survived.

   When my mother left me in front of the gate to the boarding school, I was fourteen. Before she started the car again, she caressed my hair. It’s blonde, and too long: ‘You should get a haircut’, she said. I’d like to have cut her hands off and taken them with me. I didn’t go inside straight away; before I rang the doorbell, I tried to remove some chewing gum from the pavement. I toed it loose with my shoe while looking down so as not to see her car disappear into the traffic.

   In the big foyer there are photographs of former pupils and a portrait of a young Italian hero, and across from them large windows looking onto the garden, a green peninsula where we spent our spare time. When we walked in the park we often fantasised about our own fatal endings, sometimes heroic.

   At the boarding school you couldn’t avoid going for walks. The teachers didn’t like the pupils being together in their rooms. Emma, David and I often walked together. We loved going down the path lined by holm oaks, which each year were mutilated so they could never reach each other and form a shady passage. We never associated our path with words like ‘luxuriant’, and it was impossible for anything furtive to happen there. A triumph of amputated branches and trunks. We called it the Platz. ‘It’s not a path, it’s a Platz’, said David with his crooked smile. He had chalk-white teeth. The maimed branches couldn’t conceal us. Of course, this was an architectural requirement designed to make it easier to control, as in any other prison.

For boarding school students, there’s not much to strive for: either you keep living or not, either you improve yourselves or you’re defeated.