Valzhyna Mort, assistant professor of English, has written a new essay on the Belarusian writer Ales Adamovich for the Criterion Collection: "Read and See: Ales Adamovich and Literature out of Fire."
"A nonverbal man sits on a bench on a village street. With his hands, he tells the story of his village. His hands say that all of the villagers were herded together into a barn. His hands say that the barn was set on fire. He uses his fingers to show that those who broke out of the burning barn were shot to death with machine guns. His fingers say that all six of his children were murdered in that fire.
"This footage comes from the documentary Khatyn, 5 km, a 1968 collaboration between filmmaker Igor Kolovsky and writer Ales Adamovich. 'The face of a man who survived—who tore himself by a miracle out of fire!' writes the Belarusian Adamovich (1927–94)—a former partisan in a country where every fourth person was killed during the German occupation of 1941 to 1944—in describing his encounter with this silent man, in autobiographical prose that he published later. Instead of offering the consolation of a commentary, this exclamation states the obvious. There can be no further comment. You have to come and see the face of a man who survived."
Read Mort's full essay here.
Valzhyna Mort is a poet and translator whose third book of poetry, Music for the Dead and Resurrected, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Born in Minsk, Belarus, she teaches at Cornell University and writes in English and Belarusian.