The German Riveter: From WIE HOCH DIE WASSER STEIGEN by Anja Kampmann, translated by Anne Stokes

He must have dreamed something, but when the alarm went off, he recalled no more than scraps, trees in a landscape, a couple of hills. It was Mátyás’s alarm, since his shift was due to begin in a couple of minutes. The light was still on, the air muggy. He had forgotten to close the door to the shower room.

Mátyás wasn’t there. Wind pressed against the wall of the cabin. It was quiet out in the corridor. They would suspend the work for another couple of hours. He turned onto his side and stared at his belongings. Everything was lying just as it had been, even his duffle bag with the soapstone, which he always carried with him, was lying where it always lay.

Vaclav pulled the covers around him more tightly and thought he had only closed his eyes briefly when something made him start, something dull, very far away, not the clatter of steps in the corridor, something other than the piercing signal that the work should continue. The sense of unease was unexpected and strong. It appeared to emanate from the bright wall, where the sudden daylight drew a vivid line. His warm fleece was also still hanging in the cupboard.

So, he would take the fleece to him. It was a clear morning, heavy clouds shifted as though in a hurry across the early blue. In the distance, a silver shimmer persisted. He carried the fleece for Mátyás, and he carried it like a plea, while the rumble of the machines suddenly seemed unreal to him. ‘Here we are,’ said Petrov, as he rounded the bright blue tank, behind which they were drawing samples.

He saw the familiar bowls with the oil slick, the stones and the slimy soil, saw everything he knew so well, the shakers, the monitors and tubes, saw Petrov with his good-natured smile, but he didn’t see Mátyás. ‘Where’s your friend this morning?’ Petrov took off his safety glasses and looked at him in exactly the same way as Vaclav was looking at him.

He had wanted to wait until Mátyás came of his own accord. Work had started only slowly after the long night. He didn’t need to remind Petrov of the darkness of the sea. They searched. The realisation came only gradually, as they were looking through each room, the entire deck, every corner and every step down into the landing stages, the fitness room, the canteen several times over, and their own cabins several times too, as announcements were made, the foreman carried out routine questioning of the workers, and the sky opened up into an almost glorious midday, although nothing of the day and none of the sea birds above the water could be real. As radio messages were sent off, someone brought him a hot drink, and he scoured each jacket leg, the water shimmering crazily. They tried to rein him in and finally left him sitting among the containers, and, as a perfectly round sun sank into the water, he finally noticed that he was still holding something in his hand, which only in the evening and in front of the perfectly level horizon, evolved into something that had once been Mátyás’s fleece.

By Anja Kampmann

Translated by Anne Stokes

From WIE HOCH DIE WASSER STEIGEN (‘Deep Waters Rising’)

Written by Anja Kampmann

Translated by Anne Stokes

Published by Carl Hanser Verlag (2018)

Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.

Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.

Anja Kampmann,Wie hoch die Wasser steigen ©2018 Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, München


Anja Kampmann is a poet and fiction writer, and the recipient of the MDR Literaturpreis and the Wolfgang-Weyrauch-Förderpreis. Her latest novel Deep Waters Rising was nominated for the Alfred Döblin Prize, the Leipzig Book Fair Prize and the German Book Prize. She lives in Leipzig.


Anne Stokes teaches German and translation at the University of Stirling. Her poetry translations have been shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Literary Translation Prize and for the Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize, and commended by the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation.

Category: November 2019 - The German RiveterThe RiveterTranslations

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