Compressed, delicate, but brutally precise, S. S. Proleterka is a fiercely boiled-down bildungsroman from the presiding genius of dry-ice, Fleur Jaeggy. The S. S. Proleterka is a Yugoslavian ship; our fifteen-year-old protagonist and her financially ruined, distant, yet somehow beloved father, Johannes, take a cruise together on it to Greece. With a strange telescopic perspective, narrated from the day she receives her father's ashes, our heroine recounts her youth: her re-married mother, cold and far away, allows the father the rare visit to the child, stashed away with relatives or at a school for girls. The journey to Greece, father and daughter. The last and first chance to be together. On board the S. S. Proleterka, she has a violent, carnal schooling with the sailors: I had no experience of the other part of the world, the male part. Mesmerized by the desire to be experienced, she crisply narrates her trysts as well as her near-total neglect of her father. A ferocious study of distance and diffidence, S. S. Proleterka bottles at one hundred and eighty proof the insomniac resentment and cyclical nature of familial pain. Jaeggy's distillation of childhood is brought into English with telegraphic urgency by Alastair McEwen, the acclaimed translator of Umberto Eco and Alessandro Baricco, and the emotions pressed out between Jaeggy's lines are enough to fill a tome of a thousand pages.
Fleur Jaeggy-- "a wonderful, brilliant, savage writer" (Susan Sontag) --was born in 1940 in Zurich and lives in Milan. Her work has been acclaimed as "small-scale, intense, and impeccably focused "(The New Yorker) and "addictive" (Kirkus).
"Hypnotic intensity...gripping, even haunting: powerful and hard to shake off."