|| Ayazın ve beyazın dili
Melih Cevdet Anday'a TDK çeviri ödülü kazandıran Buz
Sarayı, hem yazarı hem şiirli dili hem öyküsü hem de çevirmni dolayısıyla
fazlasıyla özel bir roman
BUZ SARAYI Tarjei Vesaas, çeviren:
Melih Cevdet Anday
Bundandır ölümlerin sessizliği Arada bir susan kış toprağı.
Bu yazıyı 28 Kasım 2002 tarihinde geç saatlerde bitirmiş. Benim bu yazıyı
yazmaya çalıştığım saatlerde demek ki Melih Bey de son yolculuğuna hazırlanıyormuş.
Ölüm haberini 29 Kasım sabahı gazeteden öğrendim. Türk edebiyatının başı
sağolsun. Güle güle Melih Cevdet Anday. Vardı böyle bir dilim de...
Derler ki; Kuzeyliler sözcüklerle değil, sessizlikle iletişim kurarlar.
Onların dili, o sessizliği nerede kullandıklarıyla şekillenir. Bu cümleyi
nereden edindim bilmiyorum. Neden yazıyorum bilmiyorum. Belki 'Buz Sarayı'nı
okuduktan sonra bakındığım yerlerden edinmişimdir, belki de ben uydurdum.
Belki 'Buz Sarayı'nı size sessizce anlatmayı istemişimdir. Sanırım benim
de beyaz'a kar'a ve ayaz'a dair sessizlikle ilgili bir dilim oldu. Vardı
böyle bir dilim de unutmuştum, aklıma geldi.
Bu yazının bir 'kitap tanıtma yazısı' olmadığını söylemeliyim öncelikle.
Olsa olsa 'Buz Sarayı' etrafında kişisel çağrışımlardır daha çok ve tabii
Vesaas'un hem diline hem de kimliğine dair bir şeyler söylemek de isterim,
dilim dönerse onun döndüğünce. Ama yine de bu yazıyı kişisel bir öneri olarak
almanızı isterim. Özellikle de şiirle bir yakınlaşmanız, şiir basamağına
yakın duran yazı diline ilginiz varsa. Çünkü bazı kitaplar, öyle, rastgele
gelirler, allak bullak ederler, başınızı döndürüler. Ve siz bu baş dönmesini
bir daha hiç unutmazsınız. Çünkü o 'özel' kitaplardır ki, dünyayı olduğundan
daha geniş kılarlar. Hemen her iyi okurun, bir zaman okuduğu ve aklında
kalan, yıllar geçse bile unutmadığı bazı kitaplar, romanlar vardır. Benim
de oldu bu türden kitaplarım. Artık konusunu bile unuttuğum ama tadını bir
türlü unutmadığım 'Tarçın Kokulu Kız' gibi. Yıllar önce okumuştum, sonra
kaybettim. Bir daha da rastlamadım hiç. 'Buz Sarayı' da işte bu tür kitaplarımdan.
Bu çeşit kitaplar yıllar sonra birine rastlar ve yayımlanırsa ancak sizden
sonraki kuşakların da 'özel' bir kitabı olma şansları doğuyor. Dilek Başak
(ki benim yakın arkadaşımdır, ve ne söylediysem yayıncılık yapma inadına
mani olamadım onun), ünlü bir romancımız ve bir iki arkadaşımızla bir akşam
balık yerken ünlü romancımızın önerisiydi 'Buz Sarayı'nı tekrar yayımlamak
fikri. Çünkü 'Buz Sarayı' ilk olarak Cem Yayınevi tarafından 1972'de, ikinci
olarak da Cumartesi Yayınları tarafından 1990'da yayımlanmıştı. 2000'li
yılların 'çocuk'larının da unutamayacağı bir kitabı olacak şimdi Tavanarası
Yayınları sayesinde. Bu kitap hem yazarı hem şiirli dili hem öyküsü hem
de çevirmeni dolayısıyla fazlasıyla 'özel'. Bu kitaba ilk kim rastladı,
kim çevirmeyi istedi bilemiyorum ama rastlayana da yayımlamayı isteyene
de, ve tabii 'Buz Sarayı'nı Türkçede vareden çevirmeni Melih Cevdet Anday'a
da teşekkür ediyorum. Şimdinin çocukları adına da Tavanarası'na tabii.
Gelelim 'Buz Sarayı'na... 'Buz Sarayı'nın hikâyesini kısaca özetlemek gerekirse;
yeniyetmeliğe henüz adım atmış iki kız çocuğunun birbirleriyle tanışması,
birbirlerine kısacık bir an içinde akıp tek olmalarının hikâyesidir. Siss
ve Unn'ün bir eşikte, çocukluktan çıkıp 'dünya'ya karışmanın eşiğinde, 'öteki'ne
çarpma 'öteki'yle çarpışmasının hikâyesidir. Bu haliyle bile, sadece bu
anın anlatımıyla bile 'nadir' olmayı hak eden önemli bir kitaptır 'Buz Sarayı'.
Kaldı ki Vesaas, dünyanın işte en kuzeyinde, her yerden 'uzakta', o bembeyaz,
o ayaz ve kopuk coğrafyayı da roman kahramanı yapıyor. Kar ve ayaz, buz
ve beyaz belki de şimdiye değin hiç olmadığı kadar bir roman kahramanı,
bir upuzun şiir oluyor. Pencere camlarını kırağının kapladığı, dışarda ayazın
kırık sesinin uğuldadığı, bir uzağın romanıdır 'Buz Sarayı'. Modern edebiyatın
nadide metaforlarından biridir.
Öteki'ne açılmanın, ötekinin farkına varmanın eşiğinde hepimizin başına
bazı şeyler gelir, gelmiştir. Birisi büyüler bizi, biri üstümüze ışığını
salar. Ben o 'an'ın nedense hep 'bembeyaz' olduğunu, başkaca da hiçbir an'ımızın
böylesine ışıklı beyaz olmayacağını düşünürüm, düşündüm. (Yeryüzü Halleri'nin
sonuna eklediğim Beyaz Delik'in adının neden Beyaz Delik olduğunu da şimdi
daha iyi anlıyorum. Bu satırlar, sadece benim şiirimi bilen okurları bağlar..
O sebeple parantez içinde.)
Norveçli bir yazar 'Buz Sarayı'nın yazarına gelince... Kimdir Tarjei
Vesaas? Norveçli bir yazar. Ve hemen eklemek lazım: Şair. 1897'de dünyanın
kuzeyinde Norveç'in Telemark bölgesinde bir çiftçi ailesinin en büyük oğlu
olarak doğmuştur. Vesaas erken yaşlarından itibaren ormanda, yaylalarda
dolanır, kızlarla arası pek iyi değildir. Belli ki ıssız, yalnız bir çocuktur.
Gündüzleri çiftlikte çalışıp geceleri kitap okur, ve erken yaşlarında yazmaya
başlar bu 'uzak' ve 'yalnız' çocuk. 37 yaşına kadar babaevinde yaşar. 1970'teki
ölümüne dek 22 roman, 6 öykü kitabı ve 6 şiir kitabı bırakır dünyaya. Dünya
genişler böylece. Vesaas'un romanları şiirli bir dille, sembollerle donanmış,
yoğun ve kısa romanlardır. Vurur. Canını yakar insanın. Budur sebebi, unutamazsınız.
Derinde bir yerde duran bir odanıza ışık salar. Vesaas'un diline de yazdığı
romana da bunca yakınlık duyuyor olmamın ardında, onun da, olduğu yerden
kopamayan bir insan olmasının, benim gibi bir tür 'gidemeyen' oluşunun da
önemi vardır belki.
Tarjei Vesaas: The Ice Palace
Theres a common misconception that Eskimos have an inflated
number of words for snow. Probably because theres various Eskimo tribes,
all speaking their own languages. I have no idea how many words there are
in Norwegian - or Nynorsk, to be more precise - but I reckon theres a good
number of them, otherwise Tarjei Vesaas The Ice Palace (1963) would be
a repetitive novel.
And how, then, without being repetitive, would it translate to English,
if we only have one word for snow? That word being, well, snow. Thankfully,
the English language has a large enough vocabulary to describe frozen water
in all manner of ways - ice, icicle, frost, slush, etc. - all equally evocative,
and its a mercy indeed for without them The Ice Palace would not be the
evocative beauty it is.
Siss and Unn are two very different young girls. The former is popular in
their rural school; the latter, recently arrived in the area, is very much
alone. But something attracts them to one another, and one winter evening
Siss heads over to Unns and their getting to know other - secrets shared,
and promised to never tell, aside - is an awkward affair. So awkward, in
fact, that Unn skips school the following day to visit the ice palace, a
structure built from the errant streams and spray of a waterfall, and is
never heard from again.
And as the search for Unn begins amongst the villagers the snow begins to
fall. In fact, the snow falls all winter, each successive layer covering
up the earth and any tracks Unn may have left. But its not quite so simple
as that, for the snow is both physical and metaphorical, a representation
of the way in which Siss becomes snowed in, emotionally isolated in her
need to preserve the memory of her friend:
Theyre not thinking about Unn any more. Who isnt? Nobody
is! said Siss, even though she had not meant to. It had gone dark, and
then she had said it.
Her mother answered calmly: How do you know, my girl? Siss said
And then nobody knew Unn. Its unreasonable, but it makes it seem different.
People have a lot to think about, you see. Mother looked at Siss and added:
Youre the person who can think about Unn all the time. As if Siss
had been given a great gift.
This gift leads Siss to embody Unn, to become the loner at school. To
keep the air of mystery alive - for that reason shell never tell another
soul Unns secret. But as the winter leads into spring, Siss learns to accept
that Unn is never coming back and in such situations one can be relieved
of a promises obligation. And so, with the new season warming the land,
Siss is able to take one step closer to adulthood and all the inner turmoil
she has been suffering melts away, the metaphorical ice palace going the
same way as the physical one:
It was just as alarmingly tall and strange from whichever angle you looked
at it. Polished and sparkling, free of snow, and with a ring of cold around
it in the middle ofthe mild March air in which it stood. The river, black
and deep, moved out from under the ice, gathering speed on its way downward
and taking with it everything that could be torn way.
Aside from the rather amazing story of The Ice Palace, with its layers of
symbols and possible interpretations, what really captures the imagination
is the prose: chilly, sad, and haunting; yet not without colour. Its poetry,
and what makes it even more special is that its a translation. Just how
beautiful must the original be?
The Ice Palace really deserves more widespread attention. Its a subtle
gem, extremely unassuming, and, while it will no doubt mean different things
to different people, they will all agree that it means something to them.
Frankly, its nothing short of a work of art and Ill be looking forward
to reading more of Vesaas in the near future. As an introduction to his
work, what a way to break the ice!
Tarjei Vesaas: The Ice Palace (1963)
Posted by Karen Carlson on July 22, 2013
Norwegian National Ballet
A young, white forehead boring through the darkness. An eleven-year-old
girl. Siss. How does a child experience the world? The Ice Palace
shows us one way an eleven-year-old girl, right on the brink of puberty
without much in the way of experience or emotional vocabulary, might navigate
her way through love, grief, and the unknown.
Yes, of course this is another of the works covered in the Fiction of Relationship
class taught by Arnold Weinstein of Brown University through Coursera. Hes
something of an evangelist about this book, finding a way to include it
in virtually every course that I teach as he explains in Morning, Noon
and Night: Finding the Meaning of Lifes Stages Through Books (he also covers
it in his book on Scandinavian literature; nothing like free access to a
class taught by the guy who literally wrote the book). I can see several
reasons it would fit into this particular course: the nuclear interaction
between the two girls, of course; the relationship between each of them,
separately and together, and Nature; and also, says none less than Doris
Lessing in her Guardian book review, the relationship of the community:
The sense of mutual responsibility is so strong it is like another character
in the story, as if, at any time you liked, you could appeal to some invisible
council of collective decency. There are few things in literature more touching,
more admirable, than the way this community of adults and children care
~~ Doris Lessing, The Guardian book review, 4/17/93
Siss and Unn they sound like beatbox syllables, dont they; what struck
me right off the bat was how opposite the names are. The girls are opposites,
too: Siss is a known quantity, a leader in her class, outgoing, whereas
Unn is the new girl, an orphan who just moved to town to live with her Auntie.
Shes a bit shy and standoffish, not really interested in meshing into the
social fabric of her class at school: She had no parents, and it put her
in a different light, an aura they could not quite explain
at her critically and accepted her at once. There didnt seem to be anything
the matter with her. An attractive girl. Likeable. But she stayed where
she was. She refuses Siss overtures to join the group, with no explanation
other than I cant.
Norwegian National BalletHow interesting that the group accepts this. In
my school, you were in trouble if you wore the wrong skirt. Maybe kids in
Norway in the 60s were more accepting of different strokes. Siss: Unn was
strong in her lonely position in the schoolyard, not lost and pathetic.
Alone by choice; aloneness as independence.
Siss isnt quite as sanguine about it, not at first; she realizes Unn has
a kind of power in her solitude, and thats what the kids respect and honor,
and to her it feels like two combatants, but it was a silent struggle
was not even hinted at. But this quickly gives way to a different feeling:
After a while Siss began to feel Unns eyes on her in class. Unn sat a couple
of desks behind her, so she had plenty of opportunity. Siss felt it as a
peculiar tingling in her body. She liked it so much she scarcely bothered
to hide it. She pretended not to notice but felt herself to be enmeshed
in something strange and pleasant. These were not searching or envious eyes;
there was desire in them when she was quick enough to meet them. There
was expectancy. Unn pretended indifference as soon as they were out of doors
and made no approach. But from time to time Siss would notice the sweet
tingling in her body: Unn is sitting looking at me. She saw to it that she
almost never met those eyes. She did not yet dare to do so only in a few
swift snatches when she forgot. But what does Unn want?
Some day shell tell me.
Now, dont get your hopes up: this isnt pornography, and it isnt about
a couple of eleven-year-old lesbians. Today wed call it a girl-crush, a
mixture of curiosity, admiration, and random eroticism focused on Unn. Siss
wouldnt have had that vocabulary, though. She just knew that she and Unn
must meet. Ive been trying to figure out some particle physics on this
(Id love some expert, or even just educated, input here) it seems a collision
between a proton and an electron can have different results, depending on
the energy. One explanation of one possibility reads The electron wave
function (cloud) and the proton wave function overlap. That is, they both
become fairly intense in the same spatial regions. And this is exactly
what happens when they do meet, and together look into a mirror:
Four eyes full of gleams and radiance beneath their lashes, filling the
looking glass. Questions shooting out and then hiding again. I dont know:
gleams and radiance, gleaming from you to me, from me to you, and from me
to you alone into the mirror and out again, and never an answer about
what this is, never an explanation. Those pouting red lips of yours, no,
theyre mine, how alike! Hair done in the same way, and gleams and radiance.
Its ourselves! We can do nothing about it, its as if it comes from another
world. The picture begins to waver, flows out to the edges, collects itself,
no it doesnt. Its a mouth smiling. A mouth from another world. No it isnt
a mouth, it isnt a smile, nobody knows what it is its only eyelashes
open wide above gleams and radiance.
During this same meeting, Unn tells Siss she has a secret, but she never
reveals what that secret is. I havent a clue what it might be, even whether
its a routine kind of secret (she was angry at her mother the day she died,
for instance, and feels responsible for her death) or something more supernatural
(maybe she hears voices; theres something about Unn that reads off, whether
it be an emerging psychosis or a belief in a spirit world). Writer Shani
Bianjiu (I loved her TNY short story, Means of Suppressing Demonstrations
from a year ago) describes, in an NPR article, how she was particularly
impressed by this aspect of the book when she read it as a child: This
book expanded my childish understanding of what a book can be and do. It
showed me that not every secret needs to be revealed. Not every seed of
a connection blossoms. Not every child grows up, or is freed of her demons.
Not every loss or pain has a purpose, or can be put in exact words
it did not make reality less fragmented and random, but it made it seem
worthy, inexplicable as it may be.
The story takes a turn here.
Norwegian National BalletThe next day, in the next chapter, Unn becomes
the third-person point-of-view character and for the first (and last) time
we see whats in her head. We discover shes as affected by Siss as Siss
is by her. She skips school the next day some combination of embarrassment
and a desire to savor whats happened and heads to the Ice Palace, a frozen
waterfall. I wont even try to capture the scene; its exquisite reading
as she travels from one room to the next, each with a different experience:
the sound of roaring water, a hostile petrified forest, a sad room of tears,
a green room, a small dripping room. And the cold
until it isnt cold any
End Part One. Because its not a novel of addition, about two girls; its
a novel about subtraction: one girl minus one girl.
Whats it like to lose someone at the very start, the incandescent start,
of a relationship? Whats it like to have promised to keep a secret not
even a secret, really, just a secret that there is a secret? Whats it like
to not know, to know you may never know? Now whats it like for an eleven-year-old
to deal with all of this?
Readers of this book experience this state of uncertainty. We dont really
know whats going on much of the time. I wasnt sure until the very end
and Im still not sure, in fact if there was a supernatural or magical
reality element, or if it was all the metaphor and emotion of the eleven-year-old
Siss seems to become Unn in some ways she becomes more standoffish at
school, and another girl takes over as leader. Unns desk is left vacant
in the classroom; when a new student joins the class, Siss defends the desk
when the teacher tries to reassign it: And if her place isnt there, shell
never come back! exclaimed Siss and at that moment her wild assertion
did not seem absurd. A quiver passed through them all. I understand that.
I was in a therapy group once, and after a suicide (that happens sometimes
in therapy groups), the chair was left vacant until the group moved to another
room. I can see how an eleven-year-old, whose friend went missing months
ago, might well feel that way. In fact, Im a little baffled that the teacher
even considered giving the desk away, but that may be my own eleven-year-old
The novel moves on with the story of Siss healing. She visits Unns Auntie,
whos moving away: Im certain now that theres nothing more to wait for.
Seeing Unns room cleaned out, talking with Auntie, who assures her she
is released from her promise these become a turning point of sorts for
Siss, who, for the first time since Unns disappearance, plans an outing
for her class to the Ice Palace, the very symbol of faith, of love, of
Unn, before the thaw brings it down.
Structurally, though certainly not stylistically, Im reminded how Lenas
pregnancy in Light in August the inevitable birth present from the very
first page gave that novel its overall structure and forward motion. More
directly, Im reminded of Speak, a truly wonderful contemporary YA novel
by Laurie Halse Anderson which also uses the rhythm of the seasons the
school year to trace a girls injury, withdrawal, and recovery. Its quite
effective, to link winter with grieving and spring with healing; it also
provides a framework that gives the novel an intrinsic momentum.
Id never heard of this novel or this author; I havent read any Norwegian
literature besides Sophies World, a YA novel of philosophy (and dont
pick on me because I read YA novels; I learned a lot from that book, and
Im pretty impressed with what is considered YA fiction in Norway). Im
very glad I encountered it here, and Im looking forward to the class lectures
to discover all the (many many) things I missed.
Frozen secrets stranded in a waterfall:
'The Ice Palace' - Tarjei Vesaas Tr.
Elizabeth Rokkan: Peter Owen,
Doris Lessing applaud the reissue of a classic novel
about rural intensity by the Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas DORIS LESSING
Saturday 17 April 1993
THE SUPERLATIVES are all worn out; we have used them too
often while trying to make some good book visible among others clamouring
for attention. 'Unique]' 'Unforgettable]' 'Extraordinary]' But these words
are used of any old rubbish. Peter Owen says Palace of Ice is the best novel
he has ever published, and that is saying a lot. Although the author was
born in 1897, his books are far from old-fashioned and traditional: he experimented
with new forms, was described as a modernist.
This novel won the prestigious Nordic Council Award in 1963. Tarjei Vesaas
has become a classic. Coachloads of people go on pilgrimages to his old
It is the atmosphere, the style, that make this novel. It begins, 'A young
white forehead boring into the darkness. An eleven-year-old girl. Siss.
It was really only afternoon, but already dark. A hard frost in late autumn.
Stars, but no moon, and no snow to give a glimmer of light . . .' But we
are behind that young forehead, inside a child's world of events and encounters,
ordinary enough to adults, but full of mysterious and half-understood intimations.
One little girl, the orphan Unn, has a secret, something terrible - we never
know what it is - which she promises to tell her new friend Siss; but instead,
the very day after the promise, she is impelled to explore the caves of
a frozen waterfall, further and deeper into the shining heart of the ice.
'The new room was a miracle, it seemed to her. The light shone strong and
green through the walls and the ceiling, raising her spirits after their
drenching in tears.
'Of course] Suddenly she understood, now she could see it clearly: it had
been herself crying so hard in there. She did not know why, but it had been
herself, plunged in her own tears.' There she dies. The whole community
searches for her, and some even clamber over the surface of the frozen fall,
but it is only her friend Siss who catches a glimpse of her, like an apparition
inside the ice palace, looking out through the ice wall.
In the spring the frozen river melts, and all is swept away in the floods,
the secret too. Meanwhile, Siss is trying to make sense of what happened.
We see with her, feel with her, understand why she may not tell what she
knows. The irony is that she has nothing to tell, only that there is a secret.
If she did break what she saw as an implicit promise to the dead girl, the
adults would only say, But is that all? Yet the 'all' is terrible, it must
have been, and the little girl knew it was.
This tale is like a legend. Easy to hear, as you read voices singing the
lines of the ballad it could so easily be. Part of the reason for this the
author did not intend, for time has taken a hand, adding a dimension of
far away and long ago. Tarjei Vesaas spent his whole life in the country,
and the tale is set in a community of a kind that could not exist in our
brutal and ugly time. Sometimes when you read or hear about a community
in the past, before it was cracked apart by aeroplanes and trains and cars
and tourists and radios and television, it seems like an organism, each
person with a function, a role, each playing a part. These people in their
rural district are a whole, everyone knowing at all times about the others
and what they are doing and feeling.
The sense of mutual responsibility is so strong it is like another character
in the story, as if, at any time you liked, you could appeal to some invisible
council of collective decency. There are few things in literature more touching,
more admirable, than the way this community of adults and children care
for Siss, a little girl frozen with shock and with grief. They understand
that she needs to identify with Unn, to stand on the edge of the school
playground, just as Unn did - that child who came from far away in Norway,
because her mother died, to live with an aunt she hardly knows. But Unn
had stood there because she was strong, to show everyone that she was, while
Siss is like a pillar of ice. Slowly the child thaws, and because of the
delicate, perfectly timed kindness of teachers and friends, she returns
'Up on land there are slashes and scars in the river banks, upturned stones,
uprooted trees and supple twigs that have been stripped of their bark. The
blocks of ice tumble away pell-mell towards the lower lake and are spread
out across it before anyone has woken up or seen anything. There the shattered
ice will float, its edges sticking up on the surface of the water, float
and melt and cease to be.'
How simple this novel is. How subtle. How strong. How unlike any other.
It is unique. It is unforgettable. It is extraordinary.
'She neither saw nor heard the waterfall, it was lower down. Here there
was merely a whisper of water as it travlled downwards, and up at the outlet
it was quite still and noiseless.
This was the outlet of the great lake: a placid sliding of water from under
the edge of the ice, so smooth that it was scarcely possible to see it.
But a veil of vapour rose up from it in the cold. She was not conscious
that she was standing looking at it; it was like being in a good dream.
A good dream could be made out of so simple a thing. She felt no pangs of
conscience because she was out on a walk without permission, and it would
perhaps be difficult to find excuses for it. The placid water flowing away
from the ice filled her with quiet joy.
She would probably lose her hold and fall down into a hollow where the shadows
were, this time too, but it was a good moment and the other was chased away
again by the sight that streamed towards her: the great river coming noiseless
and clear from under the ice, flowing through her and lifting her up and
saying something to her which was just what she needed.
They were so still, she and the water. . .'
The complete review's Review:
The Ice Palace is an eerily disturbing read. In simple,
poetic language it tells a fairly simple if devastating tale of friendship
and childhood. It's a tale of losing and lost innocence, but unlike almost
Unn is the new girl in this Norwegian town. She never knew her father and
recently lost her mother, and now she has moved here to live with her Auntie.
She hasn't really integrated yet, staying apart from the other children,
unwilling and unable to participate in their activities.
Like the other children Siss is curious about the new girl, and she feels
a sort of connexion to her. And then the day comes when Unn lets Siss know
she has to speak to her. She invites her over to her house.
They're both eleven, both very much still children. Siss is allowed to go
to Unn's by herself, despite the winter-darkness, because the way is almost
like that to school. They're both excited by this get-together, but also
unsure of themselves -- of what they want and can expect from each other,
of what to say and how to behave. They still find it difficult to express
themselves, overcome by ineffable feelings. The visit is one of awkwardness
and revelation, a sort of sounding each other out and fumbling about, but
both clearly see it as friendship being established here, as two soul-mates
who have found each other -- even as they're still tripping over their own
Siss is the warier one, uncertain if she is prepared for everything Unn
wants to share; she gets set to leave several times. Unn doesn't say much
but some of what she does is more than Siss can handle. "I'm not sure that
I'll go to heaven", Unn confides, for example. So:Siss was on tenterhooks
now. It was unsafe here. What might not Unn say ? But to be with Unn ! For
ever. She would say before they parted: You can tell me more another time.
Whenever you like, another time. We couldn't have gone further this evening.
It had been a great deal as it was. But if they were to go further it would
make things impossible. Home again as quickly as she could.
Of course she doesn't say any of this to Unn. But they both know, they both
understand each other. They've found each other, and for each it's both
a terrifying discovery and a relief, even as so much has been left unsaid.
Unn can't bring herself to go to school the next day:
No, she only had one thought today: Siss.
This is the way to her. This is the way to Siss.
Can't meet her, only think about her.
Mustn't think about the other now, only about Siss whom I have found.
Instead of going to school Unn goes to a local natural wonder, the waterfall
that slowly freezes over in the winter, creating a fabulous ice-palace:
That was where she was going. And she would not think about the other. She
would be free of it today !
And it's a fantastic structure, overwhelming the little girl:
It was an enchanted palace. She must try to find a way in ! It was bound
to be full of curious passages and doorways -- and she must get in. It looked
so extraordinary that Unn forgot everything else as she stood in front of
it. She was aware of nothing else as she stood in front of it. She was aware
of nothing but her desire to enter.
Vesaas' descriptions of Unn's exploration are masterful, a sense of menace
and dread -- it's clear what will happen -- hovering over a narrative that
describes a voyage of discovery that is all childish innocence and slow
(self-)recognition and wonder. In making it a childhood passage where purity
is overlaid on violation Vesaas writes a chapter that is almost unbearable
in its poignancy. Despite the artificiality of it there's not a false note
to it, as Vesaas uses the natural -- the crisp, clear cold, the glassy ice,
the play of light, the powerful sounds -- and never needs spell out what
unnaturalness happened to Unn.
There's a stunning erotic charge to the narrative here, too, as the small
body squeezes through the wet fissures as Unn makes her way deeper and deeper
into this glassy labyrinth: "now she managed it, slender and supple as she
was, when she pushed hard enough", etc. Even in its conclusion there are
obvious comparisons to the sexual act: when last we see her: "She wanted
to sleep; she was languid and limp and ready". Innocence and violation are
inextricably intertwined throughout.
Only when school is out do they realise that Unn is missing, and the whole
town begins an exhaustive search. Siss insists on being part of it -- and
as someone who talked to Unn so recently they keep asking her whether or
not Unn might have said something to indicate where she went, or why.
"What did Unn tell you ?" they want to know, but:
"It was only something I said !"
"I don't think so. I can see you know something. What did Unn say ?"
"I can't tell you."
"Why not ?"
"Because it wasn't like that, she didn't say it ! And she didn't say a word
The Ice Palace is full of what wasn't said, and especially of Siss reacting
to and dealing with what remains unspoken. Nothing weighs on her like what
Unn didn't say, but in descriptions of her interaction with her classmates,
her parents, and the Auntie Vesaas captures the childish (and also adult)
difficulty of communicating and of dealing with the unspoken very well.
What happens to Unn changes Siss; it's a lot for her to bear. Vesaas nicely
describes how the others try to be accommodating, and make it easier for
her. The way the children treat each other is, in particular, well-captured,
the fumbling efforts and small gestures and big meanings and sudden about-faces
effortlessly woven into the story. The children are remarkably convincing
as characters (and unlike most found in fiction, where the temptation to
make them too precocious or cute seems almost impossible for authors to
Sex is buried deep at the bottom of this story: the girls are still innocents,
only vaguely sensing that there is much that is still beyond their comprehension
-- and that is still unspeakable -- and The Ice Palace is also about that
attempt to preserve (in pure ice ...) childish innocence. So also the other
children want things to be the same as always after Unn's disappearance,
to return to that predictable childhood constancy of before; Siss finds
it harder than the others, unwilling -- and scared of -- letting go of her
memory of Unn, of what she shared with Unn.
"Is anything the matter ?" she asked.
"Yes. Things aren't the same as they used to be yet," he replied, looking
her straight in the eyes.
She felt a desire to touch him, or rather that he would do something of
the sort. Neither made any move.
"No, it's not the same as it used to be," said Siss, more unwillingly than
her expression warranted. "And you surely know why."
"It can be as it used to be," he said obstinately.
"Are you so sure ?"
"No, but it can be as it used to be just the same."
She was glad he had said it, and yet ...
Vesaas beautifully captures this so tentative pre-adolescent fumbling towards
relationships, both between Unn and Siss, and then among all their classmates.
The simple, repetitive language of the novel underscores this -- as it does
the sense of the unsayable. But Siss and Unn's efforts to express themselves
fail not only because of lack of experience (or daring): some things are
simply too overwhelming to find the proper (or any) words for -- as the
Auntie character also seems to suggest to Siss.
The Ice Palace is haunting and deeply disturbing -- though in as much of
a good way as 'disturbing' can be. Parts of the novel are difficult to read,
as Vesaas leads his young character down a road of no return, but it is
a remarkably powerful evocation of the human condition.
A very impressive work, highly recommended.