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Jana Beňová: Preč! Preč! (Away! Away!)
The title pretty much tells us what this short, post-modernist, bitty novel is about. Rosa wants away – away from wherever she happens to be, though Slovakia in particular, away from her various boyfriends, away from her job.
Her first and main boyfriend is Son. As a child he too wants away, urging his parents to leave when visiting others. Rosa, as a child, does not seem to fit in. She did not like school, did not like eating in a group. As she ate, she longed to be a free person, a real human being—not a student. She wanted to be part of the big world, not the collective.. It was when she started skipping school that she met Son.
As a young adult, she has in fact, been to the United States, having an uncle there. She quite enjoyed it but spent much of the time hanging round her uncle’s garage and, as the family wanted to speak Czech, never learned any English. The uncle later moved to Paris (where she and Son will visit him) and becomes depressed, spending his time eating and masturbating.
They go out together and soon become boyfriend and girlfriend, moving in together. When she starts work, she does not like it. One day she does not go. She got up in the morning, left the house, but then just kept walking as she passed by that unpleasant building with her desk and the monitor in front of her face. Without blinking, she continued farther through the wintry city and wandered into a shop. Work, she says, exhausts her. It sucks out the marrow and the innards. Picks them out to make soup.
Our old friend ennui comes into it, though she uses the Turkish word hüzün. Slovak has the perfectly good word nuda for this. She feels it about her country. Slovakia. This country, these people—no inspiration.
Son gets eye problems and has to have an operation. Despite this, the pair seem to continually travel: to Paris, to Budapest and elsewhere. It is always better somewhere else. On the day we came back from Paris. We’re sitting on a bench in the park. Lost. Helpless. Feeling sorry for ourselves. As if someone close to us had died.
But it is not just about Bratislava and Slovakia. Rosa wants out from her relationship with Son. So she leaves in the early hours of the morning. She left a note: I’ve fallen in love with another man. The wedding we were planning is off.. The man is Corman but he won’t last too long. She travels: to Austria (Vienna and Krems). She sees a puppet show where they are performing The Snow Queen. She plunges into the fairy tale, relating to most (though not all) the characters. And now she is off with Pierre, the puppet master. He too wants away.
We follow her travels, always on the move, even back to Son, never happy, never settled, always away! away! A friend has a child who is bullied at the local playground so the mother changes playgrounds. Changing playgrounds doesn’t solve anything. Nor countries, she comments but the friend does change playgrounds and Rosa changes countries.
Benjamin writes that if you never run away from home when you’re 16, you miss out on a formative experience, one important for the rest of your life. Even if it only lasts 48 hours. You’ll never have another chance, won’t be able to catch up. It’s just as important to run away from your man when you’re 30. But does it really work? Where are you going? Where to? are the last words of the book.
The subject matter is clear: ennui, not fitting in, never content with one’s lot, always looking to escape. Beňová’s style is bitty. She flits from period to period, from country to country, jumping back and forward with both. This shows Rosa’s inability to settle, her itchiness to get away. We clearly get the message.
First published by Marenčin in 2012
First published in English by Two Dollar Radio in 2018
Translated by Janet Livingstone