Vladimir Vertlib's "Leaving"

This excerpt is the concluding chapter of Vladimir Vertlib’s novel Intermediate Stations (Zwischenstationen), an account of the migratory progress of a Russian Jewish family between Austria, Israel, Italy, the U.S. and the Netherlands, finally settling in Austria. As in much of this writer’s oeuvre, the experiences of the unnamed protagonist share many similarities with the author’s personal history, although Vertlib insists that the work is not an autobiography. 

The final ‘station’ in the unnamed narrator’s odyssey is a move from Vienna to Salzburg – not a long-distance, international uprooting, yet one still weighted with significance for him. As his reflective musings show, the three-hour journey sets up a dialectic of opposing influences as he moves from a familiar environment to a newer and culturally different one, and from parental norms and influences to greater independence. This, too, is a migration, the text implies, while pointing out some of the many hallmarks of identity and belonging such as customary rituals, a circle of friends, prejudices and cultural stereotypes, and language. Vertlib’s distinctive contribution to this topic is his ironic, distanced stance and his wonderful, often self-deprecating humor. That irrepressible levity has (literally) the last word, too, in an exuberant and untranslatable Austrian yodel of joy. 

Posted on July 13, 2018 .