Opium and Other Stories by Géza Csath

Opium and Other Stories by Géza Csath

Opium and Other Stories is a mirror of Csath’s deranged interior and exterior lives, as if they clashed together and the broken shards became the pieces of these stories and characters. Originally published in 1908, these tales of murder, death, desire, lust, and loss possess a darkness that is characteristic of this period of European history, a moment marked by Imperial ambitions and imperial defeats, war, chaos, and revolution. Nations seemed to be forged and dismantled in the course of an evening’s drunken revelries in these decades. Kings. princes, and the bourgeoisie fed their greed on the fruits of exploitation: child laborers, colonial taxes, the broken backs of men and women worked to death in factories. What was proposed in metaphor became someone’s reality; everything was possible — then World War ensued — and despair came like a wave over Europe.

World War I was an incalculable loss, in Europe and for the rest of the world. Millions of European soldiers perished on the battlefields, suffocated on mustard gas and wasted by gangrene before slow, agonizing deaths. Colonial armies were crushed. France sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Indochinese lives; millions of Asians served as laborers; brown and yellow men died for white men’s ambitions. Men like Csath did not escape; his PTSD is a biography of the death that came after those who survived.

There is no escaping the profound sense of fracture that seems to have broken Csath as a human being. Opium and Other Stories are the pieces of what was left of him. I do not mean that in a sad, negative way; no, indeed, Csath’s life is the stuff of his imagination. His life is a wreckage you can’t tear your eyes off of and his stories are the same.

On the whole, these stories are short, snippets of lives at their strangest, at their ends, at the moment things unravel. Many of them end just as the reader notices that something is really, really, really wrong. “Paul and Virginia” was one that caught me; Csath reveals and revels in a side of love and sex that is unsavory, but not so perverse as to disgust — it attracts, causes pause, intrigues. “The Surgeon” frightened. That tale made my skin goose a bit, as did “Matricide” and “The Black Silence.” “Toad” made me smile wistfully; there was something magical in the way the animal came to life and something ugly in the way it did too.

These stories are Franz Kafka and Anna Kavan and Chuck Palahniuk — but of course, before all of them existed. They are weird and creepy and I am a little too intrigued by their gore for my comfort. Perfect for Halloween.

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