László Krasznahorkai’s new book: read an extract

13 January 2023

A Mountain to the North, A Lake to the South, Paths to the West, A River to the East

The grandson of Prince Genji lives outside of space and time and wanders the grounds of an old monastery in Kyoto. The monastery, too, is timeless, with barely a trace of any human presence. The wanderer is searching for a garden that has long captivated him.

This novel by International Booker Prize winner László Krasznahorkai – perhaps his most serene and poetic work – describes a search for the unobtainable and the riches to be discovered along the way. Despite difficulties in finding the garden, the reader is closely introduced to the construction processes of the monastery as well as the geological and biological processes of the surrounding area, making this an unforgettable meditation on nature, life, history, and being.

László Krasznahorkai was born in Gyula, Hungary, in 1954. He has written five novels and won numerous prizes, including the 2013 Best Translated Book Award in Fiction for Satantango, the same prize the following year for Seiobo There Below, and the 1993 Best Book of the Year Award in Germany for The Melancholy of Resistance. He won the Man Booker International Prize in 2015 rewarding an outstanding body of work. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in the hills of Pilisszentlászló in Hungary.

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The train did not run along tracks, but along a single terrifying blade edge, so that the balanced order of the city traffic with its ominous frenzy and trembling inner panic that announced the arrival of the Keihan train was the beginning — to get out at Shichijō Street, on the side where the Rashōmon, now vanished without a trace, had once stood in the Fukuine district, and suddenly the buildings were different, the streets were different, as if at once the colors and forms had been lost, he sensed he was already outside the city limits, altogether with a single stop he was outside of Kyoto, although of course the city’s deepest secrets were not lost here, and especially so quickly; and so there he was, to the south, the southeast of Kyoto, and he started off from there along the narrow and labyrinthine streets, turning to the left or continuing straight ahead, then turning to the left again, and in the end he should have been beset by the greatest of doubts, and as a matter of fact he was, and yet he didn’t stop, he made no inquiries and asked no directions, precisely the opposite: he went on asking nothing, he did not reflect, he did not hesitate at this or that corner, wondering: which way now, because something suggested to him that he would still find what he was looking for; the streets were empty, the shops were closed, now it seemed as if there weren’t even anyone to ask for directions because somehow everything was deserted as if there were a holiday somewhere, or some kind of problem — but somewhere else far away from here, and from the viewpoint of that faraway place this tiny district was of no interest, whoever had been here had left, everyone, to the last man, gone, not even a stray child or a noodle seller remained, no head suddenly pulled back from motionless watching behind a window grating, as one might have expected around here on a sunny, peaceful late afternoon, he established that he was alone; and he turned to the left, then he went straight on again, then he suddenly noticed that for a while the ground had been rising, the streets on which he walked, whether heading to the left or straight, had, for a while, been unequivocally leading upward, he could not establish anything more certain than that, could not say whether the incline had begun in this or that specific spot, instead there was a kind of realization, a determined overall sense: the entirety, along with him, had been ascending for a while — he reached a long enclosure wall running to the left of him, unornamented and constructed from mud bricks assembled into bamboo framework, it was painted white, its upper edge laid with crosswise, slightly battered turquoise-blue roof tiles; the footpath ran along it for some length, and nothing happened, he couldn’t see anything above the wall as it had been built too high for someone to glimpse what was on the other side, there was no window, tiny door, or even a crack-sized opening; when he reached the corner, he turned to the left and from there, for a bit longer, the path followed the wall closely until finally it came to an end, its direction cumulating in a refined bridge of light wooden construction that appeared to be floating, precisely because of its refined and light character; it was covered by a roof constructed of cypress bark, its columns made of cypress wood, burnished to perfection and supporting the soft, rain-battered flooring that swayed gently when stepped upon, and on either side: there were depths, and everything was green.

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