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A man joins the army and dreams of glory. He is sent to a distant northern frontier post watching for any sign of the fearsome enemy. They do not come.  Others have been at the fort for years, always talking of leaving, never doing so,  “caught like a limed bird.”  Schedules are rigorously kept; the watch is relieved promptly; bayonets are always fixed.  Yet nothing happens.  Time is slipping past.  His chance to taste combat seems to be passing.  Then one night, far in the distance, he sees something.

 … a little trembling light appeared in the lens of the telescope … a weak light which seemed to flicker on the point of death.   For years Drogo remembered the marvellous joy that had flooded his heart and his desire to run and shout so that everyone might know of it… one evening there was vague talk of war and strange hope began once more to eddy to and fro within the walls of the Fort.

And yet they wait.  It is years before anything is known of the light and what it represents.

Books THe Tartar SteppesThus unfolds the compelling, mythical tale of The Tartar Steppe (Il deserto dei Tartari) 1945, by Dino Buzzati. Readers have caught whiffs of Kafka’s world of dislocation, Thomas Mann’s frozen mountain isolation.  Some hear echoes of Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. It anticipates, and is said to be a major influence on Coetzee’s  Waiting for The Barbarians.

The suspended lives, the waiting for a threat that is mostly imagined, the warm wash of time is a major theme; the companion to it is the longing for battle and glory that rises in most men, their disappointment if it does not come.

As an older mentor, Lt. Col Ortiz leaves, too old to serve any longer, Drogo speaks of resigning his own commission, discouraged.

“You are still young,” said Ortiz.  “It would be a silly thing to do– you still have time.”

“Time for what?”

“Time for the war.  You’ll see–it won’t be more than two years

“Two years!” said Drogo at last.  “Centuries will pass and it will still not come. Continue reading »

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