Alf Névéry knew lots of different languages too, but he didn’t know any funny sentences, so once I told him all the funny sentences that I knew but they didn’t make him laugh because he wasn’t humorous. But apart from that he had lots of other good qualities, for example he was modest and didn’t make a lot of noise, even though he was an artist. My sister Ivana is a great artist too, but she’s an artist regarding the piano and that makes a lot of noise. And she also keeps pushing herself onto TV and onto records and it’s very embarrassing that she’s like that, always pushing herself everywhere and making a lot of noise.
That’s why I got really worked up and I wanted to know what was what and why after Ivana told me that someone from Bratislava was going to live in the flat after Grandaddy and Uncle Otto, and that he was an artist and that he’d be renting it. But he was an artist.
Luckily, Alf Névéry was not an artist regarding the piano, he was an artist regarding writing. And luckily he didn’t make writing noises, because he was a writer without being noisy. When I asked Ivana about what books he had written she told me that he had written only one book. Then she showed it to me. The book was very thin. And this is what it was called:
100 reliable of ways of committing suicide
99 good reasons for doing so
It was very weird.
Then Ivana told me that Alf Névéry was going to write another book, but he never wrote it because he died and it was a total disaster because they didn’t want to bury him because nobody in the world, not even doctors, could work out what made him die because he had no illnesses even though he was nearly 50 years old. So they investigated him for a long time and then they wrote in the Documents that he died of failure and then he was allowed to be buried.
So he was buried at the Komárno Cemetery, even though he wasn’t from Komárno, he just rented a place here.
He said his name was Alfonz Névéry but I could just call him Alf.
So after that I called him Alf Névéry and he used to give me lots of different Karlsbad Wafers because they’re the best.
He used to live in the flat next door to mine, because I have my own flat. Some people have lots of different degrees and they don’t have their own flat but I have my own flat. My flat has two rooms. One room is for living and there is also another room just for having. This is where I used to live with my parents and my sisters. Grandmummy, Grandaddy and Uncle Otto used to live in a house that had to be pulled down, so they moved into a flat in the same block as us so they could be looked after because Grandmummy wasn’t alive any more and Uncle Otto was disabled regarding his nerves. Then Grandaddy died and later Uncle Otto went missing and since then everyone has been waiting to see if he stops being missing, even though it’s been 19 years since he first went missing.
And that’s how Alf Névéry came to rent the place.
The thing is, his life of style wasn’t healthy at all because he drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes and never went out into the fresh air so really he shouldn’t be surprised that he died, when all he did was take baths and showers like some woman of sleazy virtue. But apart from that he was modest and he didn’t make any noise.
But he wasn’t humorous.
The book he wrote when he was still alive had some really weird things in it. On every page there were poems that didn’t mean anything and they didn’t even rhyme.
It was very weird.
That’s why I thought it was OK to write a Cemetery Book that was just one page long, even though I knew that books are normally longer because I’m no retard and that’s why I sent it to this man in Levice, the one who never wrote back, but I don’t care if he never writes, I’m going to write another Cemetery Book, so there.
Daniela Kapitáňová was born in Komárno, a Slovak town on the Danube. She trained as a theatre director in Prague, and directed in both Slovak and Czech theatres. She works for Slovak Radio, writes opinion pieces and teaches creative writing at the University of Constantine the Philosopher in Nitra. ‘Samko Tále’s Cemetery Book’ was published in 2000 under the pseudonym of the narrator, and remains a bestseller in its fourth edition. It has been translated into Czech, Swedish, French, German, Arabic, Polish, Japanese and English.
Julia Sherwood is a freelance translator. She grew up in Czechoslovakia, has lived in Germany and the UK and is currently based in Chapel Hill, NC. Her book-length translations include ‘Samko Tále’s Cemetery Book’ by Daniela Kapitáňová and ‘Freshta’ by Petra Procházková. She is Asymptote’s Editor-at-large for Slovakia and chairs the NGO Rights in Russia.
This is an excerpt from Samko Tále’s Cemetery Book (Garnett Press, 2011), reprinted with kind permission from the publisher and translator.