Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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John le Carrč, Smiley’s People, 1982


Death of Leipzig

Death of Leipzig:

The match had gone out. He pulled the curtains, but not on the landward side, before he lit another. He didn’t want the old man looking in. In the grey sideways light, Leipzig was ridiculously like his tiny portrait in the photograph taken by Herr Kretzschmar. He was naked; he was lying where they had trussed him, even if there was no girl and no Kirov either. The hewn Toulouse-Lautrec face, blackened with bruising and gagged with several strands of rope, was as jagged and articulate in death as Smiley had remembered it in life. They must have used the music to drown the noise while they tortured him, Smiley thought. But he doubted whether the music would have been enough. He went on staring at the radio as a point of reference, a thing to go back to when the body became too much to look at before the match went out. Japanese, he noticed. Odd, he thought. Fix on the oddness of it. How odd of the technical Germans to buy Japanese radios. He wondered whether the Japanese returned the compliment. Keep wondering, he urged himself ferociously; keep your whole mind on this interesting economic phenomenon of the exchange of goods between highly industrialized nations.

Still staring at the radio, Smiley righted a folding stool and sat on it. Slowly, he returned his gaze to Leipzig’s face. Some dead faces, he reflected, have dull, even stupid looks of a patient under anesthetics. Others preserve a single mood of the once varied nature — the dead man as a lover, as father, as car driver, bridge player, tyrant. And some, like Leipzig’s have ceased to preserve anything. But Leipzig’s face, even without the ropes across it, had a mood, and it was anger: anger intensified by pain, turned to fury by it; anger that had increased and become the whole man as the body lost its strength.

Hate, Connie had said.

Methodically, Smiley peered about him, thinking as slowly as he could manage, by his examination of the debris, to reconstruct their progress. First the fight before they overpowered him, which he deducted from the smashed table-legs and chairs and lamps and shelves and anything else that could be ripped from its housing and either wielded or thrown. Then the search, which took place after they had trussed him and in the intervals while they had questioned him. Their frustration was written everywhere. They had ripped out the wall-boards and the floor-boards, and cupboard drawers and clothes and mattresses and by the end anything that came apart, anything that was not a minimal component, as Otto Leipzig still refused to talk. He noticed that there was blood in surprising places —

In the wash-basin, over the stove. He liked to think it was not all Otto Leipzig’s. And finally, in desperation, they had killed him, because those were Karla’s orders, that was Karla’s way. "The killing comes first, the questioning second." Vladimir used to say.  

I too believe in Otto, Smiley thought stupidly, recalling Herr Kretzschmar’s words. Not in every detail but in the big things. So do I, he thought. He believed in him, at that moment, as surely as he believed in death, and in the Sandman. As for Otto Leipzig: death had ruled that he was telling the truth.


Adrienne Nater, 2008

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