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Protea Boekhuis

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Excerpt: A Serendipitous Meeting in Invisible Others by Karina M Szczurek

Invisible Others“Don’t we all carry scars which remain invisible to others?”

This is the question asked in Karina M Szczurek’s debut novel Invisible Others. The novel is the story of a relationship between a South African writer and a Polish historian who meet in Paris. She is trying to escape the aftermath of a turbulent affair. He is grieving the death of his partner. Both have difficulties in articulating the pain caused by the losses they have experienced. And it seems that not even the magic of Paris can heal them …

Read this excerpt from the first chapter of Invisible Others where a serendipitous meeting sets the scene for this story about loss, intimacy, and the inability to communicate despite best intentions:

* * * * * * * *

       One glance destroys her illusion. Her toes curl around the small cast-iron radiator below the window of her living room. She can feel her feet dampen instantly with fright in the thick woollen socks her mother had knitted for her. She narrows her eyes and a shallow breath catches in her throat. Her grip tightens around the armrests of her favourite easy chair.

       Two people, a man and a woman, stop almost opposite her building and shield their faces with gloved hands, pointing up and smiling widely. Absurdly, as she understands later, she believes they are seeking her out, their cameras ready to take her picture. She jumps up and hides behind the curtains, fear crippling all her further movements. But she watches them from behind the plush material, twisting its seam between her fingers. The two strangers are still pointing and taking photographs, unaware, after all, of her presence, unrecognised, she realises with relief, the tension slowly draining from her limbs.

       Had they seen her, they might have liked the striking face hidden behind the curtain, the intensity of her big steel-blue eyes and the gentle curve of her full lips which could be mistaken for fragility. They would not have understood the panic their presence had triggered.

       When the couple departs, she wraps her raincoat around her small figure and steps outside to inspect the house next to hers. A biting wind is blowing through the corridor of the rue de Seine. She holds the flaps of her coat with both hands close to her chin as she crosses the street and stands in front of the row of towering buildings on the opposite side. It takes her a few seconds to identify her own windows seamed by the heavy burgundy curtains. Only then does she look to the right and see that the neighbouring façade bears a simple weather-beaten grey plaque with an inscription, half in French, half in a language she fails to recognise.


– 1834 –


       She can only guess at its meaning. The date is the only thing she is truly familiar with, albeit from another context, which she is certain has nothing to do with the Polish poet the plaque seems to commemorate.

That is how he first sees her, mesmerised by whatever she is looking at. The intensity of her stare renders everything else around her irrelevant. Remembering the plaque, Konrad jumps to conclusions and rushes across the street, addressing her in his mother tongue.

       “Czesc! Skad jestes?” he asks innocently, but before she can say anything in response, the wind blows her loose auburn hair across her face and she is blinded for a second.

       “I’m sorry, I do not speak French,” she answers in English, confused and trying to clear her vision with clumsy fingers by now stiff from the cold. Konrad is seized by an urge to reach out and help her pull back the strands of hair lashing her face. He even begins to take off his glove, but something about her set jaw and rigid posture makes him resist the impulse in the end. She secures the unruly hair behind her ears and focuses her eyes distrustfully on the stranger opposite her.

       “No, no, I’m sorry. It wasn’t French. I thought you were Polish,” he says in English and, realising that she still doesn’t seem to comprehend, adds, “because you were looking at the plaque. A lot of Polish tourists come here to look at it.”

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    August 19th, 2014 @19:17 #

    Some of my favourite parts of this novel take place in the Polish bookshop in Paris. Somehow reading about bookshops makes me happy, I suppose the same is true of being in them...but I'm not sure I'll ever make it to the Polish bookshop in Paris, so I have to thank Karina for taking me there.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    August 21st, 2014 @22:17 #

    What I loved about this book was the sense that Paris was one of the characters, not just backdrop.


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