Somewhere in the Balkans the city of Besźel occupies the same topological space as Ul Qoma. The two cities are separated by culture, religion, language, taking opposite sides in the cold war and and before that between the Allies and Axis. Citizens of one space unsee, unhear, unreact to all protuberances from the other. You can reach one from the USA, the other has more links to Canada. Internet and cell phones work on both sides, but to communicate between the cities, that must go long distance through international exchanges, or perhaps not at all.
The air is shared, but aromas from one side are unsmelled on the other. Objects exist strictly in one or the other place, but as they disintegrate to anonymous detritus, they blow with the wind through both cities. They say it rains more in Besźel.
I cannot tell if this is some quirk of folded space-time that brings together these specific overlapping fragments of parallel universes separated by an historical quantum event, or instead this is an idiosyncrasy of two populations in a single conurbation reinforced by intense taboos and policed by the feared invisible omniscient Breach.
While listening to this book, I came across this video “to survive, to live – 2019” through twitter. The writer who introduced me to it now has a blog. I thought, this is the city and the city. People live precariously, and isolation during a pandemic leaves them without resource and invisible. I thought, we are not asked to judge, just to not unsee.