‘A Labour of Moles’ by Ivan Vladislavić

A business of ferrets, a skulk of foxes, a drudgery of lexicographers: everybody loves an evocative collective noun. It was for this most chirpheaded of reasons that I clocked this slim, red-spined Sylph Edition in a secondhand bookshop. Vladislavić was not a name I recognized and it was purely because of the pamphlet’s pleasing title, the fact its pages had a beautiful weight to them and the wonderful illustrations — watercolour splashes across technical illustrations from the Duden Bildwörterbuch‘ pictorial dictionary, printed on tracing paper — that my idle curiosity became a more committed browsing. By the end of the first paragraph, my jaw was on the floor.

A strange narrator explores the strange limits of a strange new world: indexed language itself. This short story has all the charge of a murder mystery, the playful wince and winch of Carrollian rabbitholes and the whirl of a prose-poem. ‘A Labour of Moles’ changed my relationship to the alphabet.

Cahier Series #17, published by University of Chicago Press through Sylph Editions with the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris in 2012