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The Work Force

January 2011

A painting of a man in a hard hat driving heavy machinery.
Helena Hugo, "Tractor." 75 cm x 110 cm, pastel on board.

As the holidays end and the new year begins, we bring you back to work with tales of employment from around the world. Whether loathed or loved, work provides both livelihood and identity; and in times of economic depression and shrinking labor markets, jobs assume even greater importance, determining both personal and political stability. Whether reinventing themselves in a new economy or sticking it out in an old one, the characters here demonstrate the variety of the international work force. Colombian journalist Andrés Felipe Solano goes undercover in a Medellín factory. Milica Mićić Dimovska’s shopkeepers recycle used clothes for new clients. Ángela Pradelli’s suddenly jobless woman goes into business as a bather. José Pérez Reyes describes a cabbie’s strangest fare. In two tales of returning natives, Djibouti’s Abdourahman A. Waberi sees an academic transformed into a spy, while Iraqi Najem Wali watches a disgraced activist turn teacher. From London, Rebecca Carter explores the tremendous cultural differences from one country to another in the art of editing. In an extract from Patrick Hofmann’s Robert Walser Prize-winning novel, an earthy butcher slaughters a pig and enlivens a family. And on the flip side, François Bon charts French factory closings, and Quim Monzó paints a portrait of Catalan work stoppages.

Six Months on Minimum Wage
By Andrés Felipe Solano
One afternoon I counted 1,253 items of clothing.
Translated from Spanish by Samantha Schnee
The Bather
By Ángela Pradelli
Olga slid her soapy thumbs behind the man’s ears and then, still using her thumbs, lightly stroked his earlobes.
Translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger
Boutique Cinderella
By Milica Miçiç Dimovska
She pulled on the dress playfully and it stirred there in the mirror, as if twitching with fright.
Translated from Serbian by Sibelan Forrester
From “The Final Cut”
By Patrick Hofmann
The butcher turned around, the kidneys in her left hand, the knife in her right.
Translated from German by Martin Chalmers
From “Kumait”
By Najem Wali
After reading Crime and Punishment when he was a student he had contemplated killing Umm Husayn.
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
A World of Editing
By Rebecca Carter
It is clear that there is a strong link between the strength of a novelistic tradition in a country and the power of the editor.
In Hock
By José Pérez Reyes
“You probably won’t believe it, but the strangest thing that happened to me was actually in broad daylight.”
Translated from Spanish by Jethro Soutar
From “Passage of Tears”
By Abdourahman A. Waberi
My mission consists in feeling out the temperature on the ground, making sure the country is secure, the situation is stable, and the terrorists are under control.
Translated from French by David Ball & Nicole Ball
From “Daewoo”
By François Bon
“And this word, superfluous, the way it sticks to you . . .”
Translated from French by Alison Dundy & Emmanuelle Ertel
Landscape with Strikers
By Quim Monzó
On the sidewalks lie piles of uncollected garbage in enormous black bags, some of them split open.
Translated from Catalan by Mary Ann Newman