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ISBN: 9781931883672
Pages: 120
Size: 4.5 x 7
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Distributed By: Publishers Group West

Old Rendering Plant

by Wolfgang Hilbig
Translated from German by
Isabel Fargo Cole

“[Wolfgang Hilbig] evokes the luminous prose of W. G. Sebald.” — The New York Times

What falsehoods do we believe as children? And what happens when we realize they are lies—possibly heinous ones? In Old Rendering Plant Wolfgang Hilbig turns his febrile, hypnotic prose to the intersection of identity, language, and history’s darkest chapters, immersing readers in the odors and oozings of a butchery that has for years dumped biological waste into a river. It starts when a young boy becomes obsessed with an empty and decayed coal plant, coming to believe that it is tied to mysterious disappearances throughout the countryside. But as a young man, with the building now turned into an abattoir processing dead animals, he revisits this place and his memories of it, realizing just how much he has missed. Plumbing memory’s mysteries while evoking historic horrors, Hilbig gives us a gothic testament for the silenced and the speechless. With a tone worthy of Poe and a syntax descended from Joyce, this suggestive, menacing tale refracts the lost innocence of youth through the heavy burdens of maturity.


“Wolfgang Hilbig is an artist of immense stature.” — László Krasznahorkai, winner of the Man Booker International Prize and author of Satantango and Seiobo There Below

“Out of the ugliness of history and the wasted landscape of his home, he has created stories of disconsolate beauty.” — The Wall Street Journal

“Beneath Hilbig’s layers of imagistic prose, deep inside the tormented psyche of his narrator, a historical beast waits to be roused.” — Electric Literature

“[Hilbig writes as] Edgar Allan Poe could have written if he had been born in Communist East Germany.” — Los Angeles Review of Books

Wolfgang Hilbig (1941–2007) was one of the major German writers to emerge in the postwar era. Though raised in East Germany, he proved so troublesome to the authorities that in 1985 he was granted permission to emigrate to the West. The author of more than twenty books, he received virtually all of Germany’s major literary prizes, capped by the 2002 Georg Büchner Prize, Germany’s highest literary honor.
Isabel Fargo Cole’s translations include The Sleep of the Righteous, by Wolfgang Hilbig (Two Lines Press); Boys and Murderers by Hermann Ungar (Twisted Spoon Press, 2006); All the Roads Are Open by Annemarie Schwarzenbach (Seagull Books, 2011); and The Jew Car by Franz Fühmann (Seagull Books, 2013).

Download Old Rendering Plant Excerpt

Excerpt from Old Rendering Plant

By Wolfgang Hilbig

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

Available from Two Lines Press


On my way home, when I could no longer see a thing, I had to keep from going too close to the water; with revulsion I recalled swimming through this liquor in a dream, amidst a pulp of organic residues cooked to the point of collapse, barely neutralized by some sort of soaps whose cloying glycerin solutions seemed to unduly speed the current of the almost seething water. And I could not go too close to the old willows that sweated out the oil of the meats they fed upon… I could not impinge on the circle of their immoderate metabolism, I could not touch them, the old renderer’s willows leaking phosphorescent ptomaine from the lancets of their leaves, for they thrived without letup, the death of the fauna had made them grow strong, potent enough to overwinter in their black-green luster. While all the other plants along the watercourse looked sickly and surfeited—all the vegetation struck me as corpulent and phlegmatic, overfertilized and overbred, its natural processes strangely retarded in the fall, when all foliage looked fatter than usual and seemed to eat its way rampantly onward, though its dark green looked dull and unclean, so that I expected to see it collapse at any moment—I thought I could see the willows devolving into hitherto unknown wildness: in the twilight, when the mist rose ever denser from the bank, they seemed transformed into fantastic creatures, the spawn of a freakishly fertile subsoil, ugly crippled excrescences that through their very degeneration had come into power and evil. I saw shapes in them like grimacing faces, not quite identifiable as vegetation, nor as any species of animal I knew; their expression had something strangely skulking, and they seemed ever ready to pull up, like worms from the mud, the roots that held them so unreliably, and shamble many-footed along the course of the waters that, for them, were both nourishment and death… In this contorted skulking, in their eldritch age, there was a spectral dignity, like invalids hobbling through weird tales, creaking and gray with craftiness…thus they seemed filled with abilities beyond their due, and like monstrous creatures long believed extinct they seemed gifted with supernatural senses that called into question the very death whose nearness bowed them down. In the mists that scudded about them in the dusk and in the darkness the character of their grimaces altered without cease: first I would see them rigid with pain, mortal fear crippling them, and it would not have surprised me if audible laments had coursed about their bristling heads; but suddenly, when they glimpsed me, their branches began to whisper and sigh, sounding to me like a wondrous enticement; at last it was sudden rage, clear even in the gathering darkness, and in a frenzy they banded ­together to cover the noxious night-stream that swelled between them, to shelter it protectively as though it were the elixir of their moribund existence, the secret spring of their dark power and the true serpents’ nest of the roots that checked their fall. When the least breath of air reached them, they seemed in imminent danger, and a flurry passed through the night-world around the renderers’ willows: they had united in a conspiratorial phalanx, merged to make a barricade, whispering as though constantly counting and calculating, and strange beams of light seemed to dart to and fro before the solid wall of their trunks, which for all their rigid postures concealed an unexpected suppleness. Heavy, drawn-out breathing had set in over the ground’s sluggish warmth, like the greedy gasping of corpses stirred from their rest under all the surfaces of the earth and the water, and when the brook made its runnel rise beneath the milky vapors of this breath, the willows’ mask-like faces twitched with a grin that had ossified around the dawn, congealed and egocentric, and rough as the dry-damp rock gray of crustaceans from prehistoric oceans.