With this book I ran for the Planet Prize for second and last time. It deals with the story of a a ruthless manipulating evil man who survives in very hard different backgrounds, where everything is against him, and however he always gets away with it. On the other hand there is the dancer, a nice, soft, sweet girl who adapts herself to her environment all the time with a smile on her lips, yet showing that hope is never to be lost.
This book has some innovations in comparison with my previous
of one story, there are two, which apparently have nothing to do
each other, the main role of which expresses the relation between
on even chapters you'll get acquainted with an Indian dancer who
a thousand years ago in Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in what
now the Indian Union; and on odd chapters you'll meet a Nazi
officer, Lieutenant Hans Peller, who manages an extermination camp
the center of Germany, at the beginning of the story. Along the
can see how sceneries and people, and also the people's traits and
personal achievements of the characers change. On one hand Shayla,
main character, achieves her goals little by little, while Hans
Peller's star gets paler and paler, till..., you'll see when you
Since this story is dual, instead of a fragment, I offer you two for your appreciation, chapters 9 and 24 out of the 40 which form the book:
Veronica was talking quite passionately to that American officer, while she pointed at me with her finger, gesticulating vehemently, as if she wanted to tell him something important, in spite of the linguistic difference. Beside her there was Ruth, who was quietly looking at the ground, in a humble attitude, but not contradicting her partner. The officer, who was still on the jeep the engine of which a soldier kept patiently idle, had taken his cap off and was scratching his head as if he was trying to figure it out something really complicated which required an important decision.
fears were corroborated by facts: the man said something to the
soldier, who put the jeep engine off and walked to me while his
superior tried to appease Veronica, who was crying a lot. Ruth, on
the contrary, was openly laughing as she looked at me.
looked around: I could run away and risk my life to one possibility,
so that when they shot me they could not hit me because the distance
I had already run was already too long. But I thought it again:
there was no uneven ground, not even a tree behind which I could
hide, and wait and try to grab a gun away from one of those boys to
die killing. And, also, with the jeep they'd get to me in a minute,
I'd be hunted like a rabbit. No, that would not be a honourable
So I waited for that young man with the calm a Lieutenant of the Third Reich should have. I might got the pistol he had in his belt and kill myself, dying as a honourable officer of the world's best country's army should die.
But my plans were aborted by the boy's two first words:
words pinned me to the ground, speechless.
«Captain Curtiss», he went on, «say you come now with me». His German was really bad, but the message was clear. The young man pointed at his boss and went to him, thinking I'd follow him. When he realized I was not walking, he made my doubts vanish with his two best words, looking at me and raising his arm to me:
Freund!» [Come, friend!]
words were like two kisses which woke me up from the deep lethargy
of my whole previous life. Before he repented of any of them, I
followed him fast.
When I was with the captain, I had to force myself not to square off, waiting in the same position as Ruth, but without the arms ajar.
«Ja, kapitan?», I said in my own language.
Luckily, Captain Curtiss did talk German correctly. He said something even more striking:
«These two women say they know you».
«Frau Veronika says she is your wife, and Fraulein Ruth is your sister in law».
I looked at my first maid, very puzzled, and then at my sister in law, who was winking her eye and smiling at me, convincing me that she really liked me.
«Herr Länder, do not be afraid: we are from the American army. We do not hate Jews or their friends. We respect you deeply for you have suffered prison because you married one of them. I'll talk positively on this to my superiors».
relief as that good man, in his forties at least, conveyed to
me a feeling I had never seen in my superiors.
«Yes, captain, it is true», I said looking thankfully at my wife. I was touched by her gesture and for the first time in my life I noticed tears in my eyes.
touched the captain even more, and he said:
«I don't know when the colonel will come, so I guess I am the top authority here at the moment. I'll see to it that you are given army passports so that you can go on with your lives on liberated land».
«Thanks a lot, captain», I said as two drops fell along my cheeks. Ruth was brilliant. On the contrary, Veronika was amazed to see those two pearls of good navigating the face of the butcher.
«I'll also grant your wife's wish, since the Dresden's archives were destroyed by the English bombing. That's why I am marrying you two again, according to the laws of my country». That puzzled me even more. So that was the deal...
«Anderson!», he commanded the soldier, «go to that hut and bring those two old women».
soldier ran and brought them. Then he wrote the name of us five
every one of us a passport, and then the ceremony started:
«At the old Legende Camp, coordinates 60º North and 15º West, by the authority conferred upon me by the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I ask you:
»You, Klaus Länder, will you take Veronika Müller as your wedding wife, to love and respect her till death you do part?»
«I will», I said, taking that woman's hand as my only handle to life.
«Will you, Veronika Müller, take this man, Klaus Länder, as your wedding husband and promise to love him and respect him till death you do part?»
looked at me. Then she smiled at me for the first time in her life,
sighed heavily, and then said:
captain smiled, and said:
«Is there anybody who has anything to say against this union? If so, please, speak now, or keep quiet forever».
Then one of the old women came to us and looked at me very carefully. She was very serious and seemed very committed with what she was doing. And then she burst out in great exclamations, out of herself:
“Mein Gott! Mein Gott! This is not possible! I can’t believe it! It’s him! There is justice on Earth, at long last! Thanks, my God!”
Her tears could not let us understand her very well, but I suddenly felt that if earth opened then and swallowed me, I would be relieved. I started seeing everything black, and a buzzing sound overcame my mind and my heart little by little. I felt I was dying.
I was about to give birth to my second child, master Amarjit fell
very ill. He lost his appetite and stopped eating. Purvaja managed
to make him eat almost by force at first, but soon she was unable to
succeed. Naya came every day and argued with his dad to make him
eat, and later on to drink, at least.
My master loved me to tell him stories. At the Dancing School they had told us many children's tales, and also tales for adults, because in addition to dancing, they taught us also the art to give pleasure, tell tales, and make people feel good with us. That's why when my master was so weak that he he felt like doing nothing else, even opening his eyes, he called for me so that I told him a story.
One of those days I was telling
him one of them, when Naya, his eldest son, came in and interrupted
«Father, I am told you have not eaten for three days».
«They said truth, son».
«Dad, you must eat to get stronger, even if I have to force you».
«My son, are you determined to kill me with violence when I can die just peacefully, listening to Shayla's melodic voice? My son, do not be cruel. Wish for you dad what you wish for youself. If I die, you'll have everything mine, with no other obligation than taking care of your mother, Purvaja, of my dancer Shayla, who will be yours, and of the children I have from her. So do not make me talk, son, and sit among us, be quiet and learn to enjoy a nice death».
Naya did not know what to say.
«Did he at least drink
something?», he asked me.
But before I could say anything, Amarjit said: «Son, I have drunk everything which I had to drink in this life. Be quiet. I want to hear her».
Naya left the room, in dismay. Probably he did not want me to see him cry.
He came back half an hour later, with Purvaja. Both of them sat on a coach which was behind the door, between it and the bed where Amarjit was lying. I was at the other side of the bed, sitting on a chair, my hand holding my master's, even if in truth it was his which held mine...
«... and when the waters came down, the peasants went back from the mountains and could labor their lands again».
«Is it the end?», Amarjit said in a very feeble voice.
«Tell me another tale, please. I love your voice».
I looked at Naya and Purvaja, who nodded at me both at the same time.
«The Brave Woman is one of my favourites, master. Have I ever told you?»
«Three times, my girl; but tell me again, because I am fond of it».
«On the years when Varanasi was not old yet, there was a peasant who lived in a little cottage not far from the city, together with his wife and their small daughter. One day the peasant's wife died: when he woke up, he saw that she had not got his breakfast ready for him. Worried, when he came from bathing in the river, he shook her gently: Wife, he said, get up, lazy one. But she did not wake. He put his ear on her chest, but heard nothing. He watched her and saw that her breathing did not go up and down, as when somebody is sleeping, but her chest was motionless. He got in his hand one of the needles she used to saw, and poked her right sole, and he saw that he did not react, and also there was not blood on the small hole the needle had made. She's dead, he said bitterly. What is going to happen with my little girl? What's going to happen to me? So he woke his daughter up and told her: Come, Yamir, come to say mom good-bye. The little girl got up and that day it was not her mom who helped her to wash, but her dad. Why, daddy?, little Yamir wanted to know. Where is mom going? He looked at her with a very sad face and said: She's going to Brahma, daughter. She has been so good that the Good God invited her to his home for a long time. Come, let's have breakfast. And the good man prepared some porridge, which they ate with milk and honey. After, he took her to the bed where her mom seemed to be sleeping, and they washed the dead woman's face and body, anointed her with perfume, dressed her with her best dress and then he combed her very slowly.
»Look, daughter, your mom is very beautiful. Kiss her. And Yamir came to her mom and kissed her on the face. Good-bye, mom. Give God Brahma my love. The peasant went outside and brought the cart near the house. Then he came in and said: Dottie, let's take your mom to Lord Brahma. She asked: By cart, dad? But he explained that they were going to the river. He said that in the river there was a priest who would help them make her mom go up to heaven by means of fire, and the parts of mom which could not go up would go to the god by means of the river Ganga, which is holy, in a ceremony called Antiesti. The peasant and his daughter loaded Denali's body on the cart and took it to the banks of the holy river. There the brahman chanted some prayers and with the help of several men made a big pyre and put Denali's body on top of it. Still on the protection of the brahman's prayer, little Yamir set fire to the funeral pyre at her father's request, and so her mom's soul could leave her body and go to Heaven wtih Brahma. When the fire was off, there was only a lot of ash. Father and daughter dropped all of it into the river, which took away what was left of Denali's body to the House of Brahma, which was very far from there. For ten days nobody could touch them, because they would be regarded as impure and therefore untouchable because they had touched the dead remains of a deceased person, even if they had to do that because they loved her and had to help her get to the House of Brahma, the God of the gods. Afterwards they had a bath on the Holy River and life went on for them, but without Denali.
Day by day they went on with their lives and learnt to live together and work the land and live one with another till one day, twenty days later, his dad felt suddenly ill, and he called his daughter: Yamir! I feel very bad. Bring the cart and pull it to the door. He crawled to the door and his daughter helped him get on the cart. Then she went into the house and washed, put some perfume on her and dressed her best dress, since she was going to the more important ceremony in her life. When they came to the river, her dad made a very faint, sad smile, and said: Daneli, wait, at last I am going to you! And he stopped breathing.
»What can I do for you, my daughter?, the brahman said.
she said, my father has just
died, and I want him to go and rest with Brahma. The
priest stared at her and was sad to see so beautiful a young girl
with no father or mother. My daughter, the saint man asked, do
you have a husband? She said: No, sir, I have no husband, no boyfriend, no
brother, no uncle, and even no longer a father. There is no man in
my life. Fearing the answer, he asked once again: So
what do you want to do, my daughter? She knelt in front of
the brahman, and said: Holy
Father, my dad needs to go to the House of Brahnma, and I am going
with him so that he does not get lost, as he is so old and his
eyesight is poor. The priest prayed, and pulling her
up, said: Get up, girl, because
it is me who should pray at you, because you are holy. And he
fetched several men and among them all they made a great funeral
pyre under and around the cart where father and daughter were. In
great respect, under the religious chants by those men and the
brahman, she herself set it on fire, which soon covered the father
and daughter's bodies, whose souls they saw go up to heaven flame a flame, spark a
spark. When there were only ashes instead of the cart and the two
people, those respecting men took them with their hands and pushed
them into the Ganga River, the Holy River, with care an awe and they
were proud to be untouchable and impure for ten days, for they had
touched a saint's ashes, Saint Yamir, the Saint of the Moon. And it
happened that up there, in Brahma's House, the good god received his
two new guests, and said: Yamir, I am pleased with the love you
feel for your father. So that you can be together forever, you
will not reincarnate again, but you will live here with me
forever, and you will be able to talk to Daneli in the lives she
will still live before she comes to my house to live here forever
together with you two and with me. And this is the story of
Yamir, the brave woman».
I finished telling the tale, Purvaja got close to her husband and
kissed him. He was cold: he had died while he was listening to his
The next day all the family went with Amarjit to his last dwelling place. After the chants by the priests, they burnt my master's corpse. My mistress, Purvaja, insisted, and she would not be talked into not to going with her husband to the House of Brahma, for she was a real Brave Woman. I felt a deep respect for that dedicated wife when I saw her setting her own pyre on fire from the inside, as Yamir did in my tale, and then disappear from our sight behind a column of smoke while she was holding her dead husband's hand. Most shocking about that sacrifice was Purjava's willingness, her proof of love for her man, which went beyond death.
Naya and his children dropped his parents' ashes into the Ganga River, and they allowed me to help them, since I was mother to two of the dead man's children, and that made me part of the family.
«Some things are about to change in this house», Naya told me as soon as we came back home. «Now I am your master».