‘Toward Happy Civilisation’ by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell

Mouthful of Birds contains a number of wonderful stories, but perhaps my favourite is ‘Toward Happy Civilisation’ which begins like a Western and ends like an out-take from Kafka’s Amerika. It starts simply enough with a man being refused a train ticket. As a result, the train does not stop and the man is stranded and is soon lodging with the station master and his wife, yet he refuses to abandon his dream of boarding the train. The story performs a deft sleight of hand when the perspective shifts from being entirely Gruner’s and draws back (“Gruner’s actions that first day are the same as this of everyone who has ever been in his situation”) to emphasise his dream is not unique. Like so much of Schweblin’s work, the story’s ending allows us to feel something we already know only when it is revealed.

First published in Spanish in Pajros en la boca, 2010, and in English in The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2019, and available to read online here. Collected in Mouthful of Birds, Oneworld, 2019

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