Tuesday, 8 January 2019

'The Concession'

In this Mark Valentine story from Inner Europe we are once more amid the ruins of the Hapsburg Empire. This time we see it from a most unusual perspective - the former Consul-General of the Austro-Hungarian enclave in Tientsin. I was unaware of this historical oddity, the empire's only overseas colony. Now, after the end of the Great War, the official has been asked to write an account of his service. But he finds himself wandering the streets of Vienna (an alien city, as he is a native of Trieste) remembering seemingly random incidents of his time in China.

This is almost a prose-poem, for all its historical detail. There are some beautiful images, especially those of the Chinese man - possibly a spy or something more arcane - who made colourful paper boats for Western children. The end of the story is moving, artistically right, inevitable. It may seem odd to lament the collapse of old empires, but it is hard not to when they are represented by such civilised and humane characters.

No comments: