Esther Kinsky

Translated by Iain Galbraith

Published 17 January 2018, French paperback with flaps, 368 pages
Winner of an English PEN Award

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The translation of this work was supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut which is funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs

‘After many years I had excised myself from the life I had led in town, just as one might cut a figure out of a landscape or group photo. Abashed by the harm I had wreaked on the picture left behind, and unsure where the cut-out might end up next, I lived a provisional existence. I did so in a place where I knew none of my neighbours, where the street names, views, smells and faces were all unfamiliar to me, in a cheaply appointed flat where I would be able to lay my life aside for a while.’
      In River, a woman moves to a London suburb for reasons that are unclear. She takes long, solitary walks by the River Lea, observing and describing her surroundings and the unusual characters she encounters. Over the course of these wanderings she amasses a collection of found objects and photographs and is drawn into reminiscences of the different rivers which haunted the various stages of her life, from the Rhine, where she grew up, to the Saint Lawrence, the Hooghly, and the banks of the Oder. Written in language that is as precise as it is limpid, River is a remarkable novel, full of poignant images and poetic observations, an ode to nature, edgelands, and the transience of all things human.

River is an unusual and stealthy sort of book in that it’s the opposite of what it appears to be – which is a rather apt dissimulation, as it turns out. Yes, it rifles through both the rich and rank materials of the world, turning over its trinkets and its tat, in a manner that is initially quite familiar – however, this curious inventory demonstrates an eye for the grotesque and does not hold the world aloft, or in place. Here, details blur boundaries rather than reaffirming them, positing a worldview that is haunted and uncanny. Shifting through unremarkable terrain we encounter the departed, the exiled, the underneath, the other side. We are on firm ground, always; yet whether that ground is here or there, now or then, is, increasingly, a distinction that is difficult and perhaps irrelevant to make. Sea or sky, boy or girl, east or west, king or vagrant, silt or gold; by turns grubby, theatrical, and exquisite, we are closer to the realm of Bakhtin’s carnival than we are to the well-trod paths of psychogeography. Kinsky’s River does indeed force us to stop in our tracks and take in the opposite side.’
— Claire-Louise Bennett, author of Pond

‘Our narrator is an ambulant consciousness open to stimulus, like a video recorder left running. She’s not searching for anything. She’s just there, enduring in the company of rust, moss, dirt, cracks, puddles, half-dead grass, rubbish, wire, random bricks, concrete without purpose, the blackened ground from past bonfires, holes, fragments of fabric, plastic toys, weeds, saplings and dead animals…. [River‘s] main subject is the sense of materiality, and its complement, light, that accompanies the narrator from her childhood on the Rhine through sojourns in other riparians homes-from-home, on the St Lawrence in Canada, on the Vistula in Poland…. The form of River mirrors its content; its consciousness flows with a sense that, like water to the sea, it will one day lose itself. It is appropriately, seamlessly translated by Iain Galbraith.’
Lesley Chamberlain, The Times Literary Supplement

‘Rich in atmosphere, River meanders like its liquid locales … Iain Galbraith, who has also translated Sebald, gives River, and all its “lumber of cumbersome jetsam”, a special English poetry of grunge and grime.’
The Economist

‘Magnificent … As with the work of W. G. Sebald, Kinsky constructs the past through landscapes: for the woman, a river is a “water-script of histories.’
New Yorker

‘Esther Kinsky’s unnamed narrator observes and remembers, piling up beautiful, silt-like layers of description and memory until it becomes difficult to know which is which…. This is a book to relish for its precise descriptions of landscape and weather, for its interest in the detritus of other people’s lives that we routinely overlook, and for its international reach as well as its localised intensities, all wonderfully evoked in Iain Galbraith’s translation.’
Jonathan Gibbs, Guardian

‘There’s a timeless quality to River ... the names of the four seasons and the four elements (“air” is most frequently associated with storms; the season is usually autumn or winter) are intoned over and over, and the book’s structure is openly cyclical. How much is fact and how much is pure fiction? It hardly matters. River exists in a hinterland between personal and universal strands of truth … Esther Kinsky has produced a minor-key masterpiece. Iain Galbraith’s English translation is note-perfect, and River could well be one of the best new translations of 2018.’
— Jacob Silkstone, Asymptote 

‘[T]hick with meditative and descriptive passages, with swells of poetry and lyricism … it unfolds at a tender pace which encourages a way of reading that honours the narrator’s own movements…. It is a book that offers gifts granted rarely to readers — particularly in an age when readers are starved for attention — including latitude and airiness, leeway to wander astray from a singular line of narrative.’
— Daniel David Wood, Glasgow Review of Books

‘A surreal, visionary, often comic novel about east London, and the meanings of exile. Hackney Marshes and their environs have never felt more magical – or menacing.’
— Boyd Tonkin, The Arts Desk

‘It is beautifully written (and sensitively translated by Iain Galbraith), finally capturing the enigmatic landscape of the Lea more than anything else I have read – it is that perfect.’
Ken Worpole, Caught by the River

River is a beautiful exploration of memory’s unbreakable bonds with its natural surroundings.’
— Matthew Janney, Culture Trip

‘The quality of Esther Kinsky’s writing is so good that you cannot fail to be spellbound by it.’
— The Modern Novel

‘The chapters in River are tributaries, hinting at events, lives, relationships, before whirling and eddying backward or forward to another place, another time … reminiscent of Patrick Modiano, or, as many have been quick to point out, W.G. Sebald, in its hazy precision and nebulous beauty … it teaches us how to look closer, and how to love the grubby eloquence of the things we may first dismiss.’
Totally Dublin

‘Esther Kinsky’s novel outlasts everything that has recently been published in the German language with patient stamina. It is full of culture without being erudite, and full of knowledge without being smart-alecky. River is a democratic book, witty, wise and touchingly beautiful.’
— Katharina Teutsch, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

‘Written in a style that is both precise and dream-like, River is a great book about the obliteration of landscape.’
— Christine Lecerf, Le Monde

‘An extraordinary book and a major writer.’
— Nelly Kapriélan, Les Inrockuptibles

Esther Kinsky grew up by the river Rhine and lived in London for twelve years. She is the author of six volumes of poetry, five novels (Summer ResortBanatskoRiverGroveRombo), numerous essays on language, poetry and translation and three children’s books. She has translated many notable English (John Clare, Henry David Thoreau, Iain Sinclair) and Polish (Joanna Bator, Miron Białoszewski, Magdalena Tulli) authors into German. Both River and Grove won numerous literary prizes in Germany. Seeing Further is her fourth book published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Iain Galbraith was born and grew up on the west coast of Scotland and now lives in Germany. He is a poet and translator (Natascha Wodin, Alfred Kolleritsch, W. G. Sebald, Jan Wagner) and has received several prizes for his work, including, most recently, the Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize (2015) and the Schlegel-Tieck Prize (2016).