Tonight at 7 PM I’ll be onstage at Elliott Bay Book Company, talking to German author Jo Lendle about his novel All the Land, which has just been translated into English. The book is a fictionalized account of the life of polar researcher Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), who originated the modern theory of continental drift. If you’re in the Seattle area you should definitely come by and see us, but even if you’re not, you should pick up a copy of the book, which is great:
He looked through the sheets one by one, then crumpled each piece and tossed them over to the cold fireplace. He missed it every single time. The white paper balls bounced off the surrounds and rolled briefly across the kitchen floor before coming to rest. He kept the four best drafts. The tool chest contained a few nails and a hammer, and Wegener used them to affix the pictures to the wall above the fireplace, next to the cast iron pokers.
They showed the prehistoric face of the Earth. Wegener had spent the day cutting continents out of stiff card and transferring the most important characteristics to them: directions of the glaciers’ motions, occurrence of rare species of flora and fauna. Then he had pushed the pieces to and fro on the tabletop like glasses at one of the seances all the world was talking about. What ghosts was he trying to summon? When the pieces refused to fit he had cut, torn and folded them until everything finally tessellated: abrasions, habitats, coasts. Then he had constantly retraced the continents’ paths, how they split, divided, separated off and drifted into their present positions. He had repeated the movement until his hands knew them by rote, forwards and backwards, in a single moment overcoming distances for which the continents had taken millennia.
Then he had traced the various phases onto new sheets and finally coloured the surfaces of the continents as far as the pencil stumps had allowed. He had chosen a pink pencil for the ur-continent, because it was closest at hand. While the ur-continent was a single mass in the first picture, in the consecutive sketches it separated ever further, each surface drifting gradually away towards its present position.
Only now that the series of pictures was on the wall did it occur to him that their course looked like a flower slowly opening its pink blossom. Or a plate breaking very gradually. No, thinking about it, it was an embryo, lying curled in the first picture and then growing continually, the little head rising, the foetus stretching out arms and legs and taking ever greater shape. As long as one did not get confused by the head and limbs gradually separating off from the rump. Wegener picked up the last piece of pink and wrote beneath the first picture: All the Land.