Authors: Edward Carey
“The great strength of
Alva & Irva
is the portrayal of the sisters themselves, the best manifestations yet of Edward Carey’s compassion for people on the fringe…. They stand before us with all their imperfections on frank display, daring us to call them freaks but challenging us to look deeper and find what links us to them.”
“Carey involves you in the way we live secret lives, the way we try to wring order out of chaos, the way time tinkers with memory and history.”
“Powerful … Carey is an enormously talented writer.”
“ … a book that starts out playfully weird becomes a beautifully affecting—and eminently topical—exploration of urban destruction, the persistence of hope, and the human need to memorialize. In the process it turns into a much broader and deeper book: a triumph of pure vigorous imagination—a sad tale of obsession—and a grimly plausible portrait of a city overwhelmed by catastrophe.”
“Besides realism, there is an older tradition of the novel, in which people, events, places—or two or all of those elements—are quite awry. Carey’s amazing, amusing and affecting second novel belongs to that tradition … a genuine human comedy.”
Craig Czury, Joe and Renata Gayon, Ariel Kotker, Tom Langdon, Anna Searle, Gabija Veberiene, Jeremy Wellens, Claudia Woolgar and Maria-Cecilia Woolgar have helped me in varying ways through the slow process of this book: by taking me on visits to ruined collieries, by providing me with places to write, by daily sending me postcards of the same city, by keeping still in unpleasant positions for many long hours, by taking photographs of teeny-weeny buildings. I would like to give particular thanks to the ever-patient and generous Janos Stone, who nannied me through what was I’m sure for him the exhausting sculpture part of this project, and to Isobel Dixon, Ursula Doyle, Elizabeth McCracken, Richard Milner and, most hugely, Ann Patty for their wonderful advice on how I might proceed with the writing part of it.
You will find no new lands, you will find no other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighbourhoods;
and you will grow gray in these same houses.
Always you will arrive in this city. Do not hope for any other–
There is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have destroyed your life here
in this little corner, you have ruined it in the entire world.
C. P. C
Dallia & Linas
Alva & Irva
The World & Our City
Entralla & Entralla
here were once twin sisters in our city, trapped in a loneliness that was perpetually crowded by each other. One day, in a desperate urge to fit in, in a deep yearning to belong somewhere, these sisters decided to map our city, to make a detailed inventory of our home, to make precise miniature models of every street, of every dwelling. One twin stayed at home constructing this ever swelling model, built out of plasticine purchased from a toy shop on Pilias Street; the other walked the city, day and night, gathering up all the details, armed only with a notebook and a tape measure. For many years they kept to their task, and in the end, I think, they were the greatest of experts on this city of ours, this city of Entralla, that will perhaps ever be known. Now, throughout Entralla, in our schools, in our work places, in our many homes, people talk of them constantly.
the absolute harmony of its location, crowned with its magnificent ruined fortress, its marvellous churches and excellently constructed secular buildings, Entralla offers priceless treasures for any sensitive visitor. Location, architecture and time, as if three great friends, have conspired to create a masterpiece. If the city, the opposite of nature, is the pinnacle of man’s achievements, then this city, as I am sure you will agree once you have had a chance to peruse it, may represent a supreme example from which many another city’s beauty may be judged.
Though it must be admitted: Entralla, through some spite of fate, is not a famous city. Yet it is ours and we are proud of it. Somehow you have come to us and you are welcome. Look about you, see churches, cunningly restored, of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical architecture; the clues to the twins’ lives lie all about
the city, in the buildings, in the inhabitants. So see people now, our people, overfed and underfed, ripe and stale. See our city moving urgently and sedentarily about its business. Welcome and look about you please. Throughout Entralla there are various statues of people, busts or full length, in metal or in stone. Foreigners may look at these statues and wonder whom they represent, for all the proud faces will mean nothing to them. These sculptures are the famous people of Entralla. Their names are irrelevant to all the other peoples of the world, their times and deeds remain obscure, there are no books published to explain who they are and why they have been thought worthy of commemoration. They are not mentioned in the official guidebook to Entralla which, though available in one book store only, is published in five of the more popular languages of the world. But it is only thirty pages long. And it must seem to our few foreign visitors that our sculptures and monuments represent a little people of no worldly importance, as if our city were only a village and that we had chosen to immortalise local characters, such as typically can be found in a village—the priest, the mayor, the fat butcher, the idiot. But Entralla is a city and not a village.
As the world is daily shrunk by technology it has finally been decided that one history should be made available to a larger public. It has also been decided that I, August Hirkus, a slightly balding man in my fifties, neither thin nor fat, with little about me that might attract attention, a man whom people may even describe as possessing plain or bland features, that I should write the introduction and various other passages to this history since I knew many of the people concerned and since I went to live abroad some years ago, and returned with a knowledge of the English language—that language which is supposedly the most popular in the world—so that I might translate this history into this popular English language, thereby allowing as many people as possible to learn it.
Of course some foreigners will say, ‘You are wrong, there are at least two concrete incidents in your city that made international news.’ This knowledgeable foreigner would boast that the name of Entralla was certainly familiar to him and that he had even seen brief shots of the city on television. Such people are few, such people
are precious. It is true that Entralla suffered from an earthquake some years ago and much damage was inflicted upon it. And for a while afterwards many foreign visitors came, but these visitors were businessmen and businesswomen who showed interest only in repairing our city, and in repairing it as they saw fit. They have all gone now.
The other concrete incident that occurred in Entralla which may have been heard of abroad, was reported on many of the lunchtime television news shows across the world, but was unfortunately not to be found on the evening news; by then a war had broken out somewhere which had succeeded in ending the lives of fifty-two people and in halving a moment of fame for us. This incident is perhaps one which many people from Entralla would rather not have had broadcast at all, for it is not likely to improve the world’s impression of us; rather, in fact, the reverse. In this incident, which is still talked about now, a woman died of a heart attack whilst on a trolley bus but the trolley bus driver refused to stop the bus until his route had been completed; he had orders, he said, and they could not be disobeyed. So the dead woman remained on the trolley bus until it had journeyed several circuits around the city and finally returned to the trolley bus station. Little did the passengers that day know that this journey was to become one of the two concrete incidents for which Entralla may be internationally known. Little did the dead woman know that her journey on the trolley bus would be her last and that her death would become, briefly, world news. Little did the bus driver, a certain Andrius Chapin, know that his refusal to stop the trolley bus with the dead body inside it would result in his becoming, briefly, internationally famous, and locally famous forever. Now whenever he gives his name, at a party or at some public meeting or other, people always ask him, ‘Weren’t you the trolley bus driver who refused to stop the trolley bus with the dead body inside it?’ And Andrius Chapin always begrudgingly says, ‘Yes’, and the person who met him goes home that night and tells his incredulous family that he has actually shaken hands with the former trolley bus driver who had refused to stop the trolley bus with the dead woman inside it. This incident made the news because
the world apparently found it shocking. A person dying in this way touched their imagination, they have buses too and they feared for themselves. There was something extraordinarily riveting and comprehensible about an individual dying in a bus and being driven in circles around a city, unable to get off; it was far easier to understand, for example, than thousands of lives ended in an earthquake. In Entralla, however, most people found the news tragicomic; in fact, many people still find the incident amusing today, and such fun has been had from it that there was even a story going around that a statue would be made of the trolley bus driver or that the trolley bus in which the dead woman had sat for three hours without being removed would be exhibited in the main hall of our principal art gallery. Such stories are mere mischief making. Certainly no one is going to make a statue of the trolley bus driver. But, as fate would have it, a statue is to be made of the woman who died in the trolley bus. The reason for this statue is not to form a permanent reminder of the lamentable death of this woman but as a celebration of her life. For us, the residents of our city, the incident inside the trolley bus was made doubly appalling or amusing, depending on your viewpoint, because the woman who died on the bus was indeed a famous person from Entralla and the international media refused to refer to her in any terms except for ‘the dead woman’. For them only her death was significant. For us her life was of enormous importance and her death, at the young age of thirty-four, was unworthy of her. The dead woman was one of the twin sisters, one half of Alva and Irva.