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The Last of the Vostyachs

by Diego Marani

This inventive mystery novel pivots on philology being the key to who we are. The Vostyach of the title has been struck dumb by trauma until he meets a sympathetic linguist. She heralds him as a scientific discovery - a missing link- and takes him from wilderness to civilisation. Whom she chooses to trust is the catalyst to an intricately plotted tale of murder, intrigue, ambition and regret. A Columbo style procedural ends with an ironic twist.

Extract

Your language has never known the dizzying heights of universality. No one studies it, and all you can do is repeat it among yourselves, because it tells of a tiny country no one knows. To communicate with the rest of the world you have to learn another one, you have to venture out among words which are not your own, which you have borrowed from others. Like second hand clothes they are not tailormade for you. They are too loose, or too tight, faded from use; they turn you into perpetual refugees. Whereas our language can tell of the whole world; and we can speak it from here to the Pacific. Thousands of foreigners study it, and in doing so they become steeped in our thought; the sounds of our language stamp the mark of our minds on theirs, conquering them as they do so. Our language is translated into a hundred others. A hundred other peoples want to understand us, and invent words in their own language which express our truths.
Translated by Judith Landry

Parallels

New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani
The Last of the Vostyachs by Dedalus Limited- Vimeo film
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
 

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