High in the Sky Above

By Juan Pablo Bertazza


Julia Fernández Laín

Foreign Rights Manager

About the book:

In this novel, prequel to Síndrome Praga (Prague Syndrome) by the same author, Katka Fůrstová arrives at the Argentine capital city to go after a great emblem of Prague culture, which, during the Nazi rise to power, was smuggled by a group of initiates in Jewish mysticism. The mission –which drives her to one of the most central and at the same time secret corners in Buenos Aires– mutates and falters almost as much as her state of mind, as she gradually absorbs the strange codes of the porteño’s way. Revealing, poetic and funny, this lucid prequel to Síndrome Praga reunites the most Parisian palaces in Buenos Aires, such as Barolo or Palacio de Aguas Corrientes, with the average grills or parrillas, gothic novels by Gustav Meyrink and the euphoria of well-known local pop star Natalia Oreiro. With its unusual elements of foreignness, High in the Sky Above manages to achieve one of the goals of any novel: the power to resignify. It resignifies the plot of the previous novel, the cultural bonds with Central Europe, Buenos Aires’ condition as a inexhaustible literary metropolis, and that strange resistance force –which, in this story, is embodied by the withdrawn artists– made of irony and talent, always busy assimilating so many years of cyclical repetitions like those which mark, according to the legend, the return of the Golem.


During takeoff, as she saw the bridges over the Vltava River, Katka realized she had forgotten about the rite. Each time she was confronted with a change, Katka liked to cross the Legion Bridge to exorcize herself from any form of fear. To go from one end to the other of that bridge, trying to think very carefully about what was about to come, was the best way for her to combat anxiety. She had done it for the first time with her father, when she was eleven and about to start a new school. Having forgotten it now that the change implied moving away not only from her country but also from her hemisphere provoked in her a mixture of fury and bitterness, even when she did not consider herself superstitious. The worst part was that she had actually planned it in advance: it was among the items of a to-do list she had put down on a notepad ten days before the trip. But with so much to do, it had slipped her mind. Since the bridge could be easily spotted in the distance, and she knew it by heart, she tried to picture herself crossing it, as if she were looking at herself from the sky above. But as soon as she tried, the plane steered diagonally, the sight of the bridge was fully blocked by one of the wings, and the aircraft flew into a dense, thick cloud that shook all stability. The most annoying passengers, those who usually stand up to grab something from their carry-ons or walk up and down the aisle for no reason, remain seated. The plane continued its ascent, left the cloud behind and faced up to the sun that was beginning to cast the true color of dusk. It was the first time Katka had forgotten about the rite and it was the first time she left Prague without knowing when she was going to come back. Suddenly, the mission seemed outrageous, as if from the air she could see everything clearer. To soothe herself, she remembered that, when accepting the trip, she had been driven by an impulse that grew stronger, something between the need to get away and the desire to discover what lay beyond. With a lost look, and without looking at the bridge, she kept herself distracted by touching the screen in front of her seat, which was divided into film titles, almost new, songs with which long-forgotten artists came back, and a game menu that went from the classic minesweeper to a general knowledge test which asked who the first person had been to identify water, air, earth and fire as the four elements. After spotting the right answer among two other quite ridiculous options, Katka remembered that, though she had asked herself that question sometimes before, she did not know for sure what her favorite element was. That changed according to the circumstances. Air, in any case, was very tempting to her. Perhaps because it was the most uninhabitable element –it is possible to survive underwater for some time, let alone on earth, and fire allows for some closeness, to the point that it is possible to touch it for an instant without getting burnt, as if its destructive power depended more on duration than on contact. Air, instead, was exclusionary and enigmatic to her, it could only be trespassed, like right now, by means of some transport, but not directly, and that impossibility was appealing to her. Air. She was heading to a city with air on its name: BA like NY, which is also BA, Big Apple –like a blank sheet of paper, a wholly new city of which she only knew the musical universe of Evita filtered through Madonna’s singing. A place in which, so they had told her, chaos is the rule, but for that very fact makes you feel more alive. All those phrases, meant to help people understand a place before actually visiting it, seemed to her all the more stupid. She tried to neutralize them and formulate, instead, some questions that had to do with her own way of navigating through uncertainty, that uncertainty which, having forgotten about the rite, was becoming even bigger: what in Argentina would make her laugh? What would the sky and the smells be like in a city that called itself Buenos Aires? And above all, what was waiting for her in that far-away country where, if all this crazy thing ended up being true, somebody had carried the most extravagant souvenir in all Prague? Something moving in the sky called her attention. She turned her head and saw out the window the vapor trail of another airplane going in the opposite direction. She was stunned by the fast speed with which it moved, even though it might be the same as her plane’s. However, speed is something one cannot observe in oneself. Despite the fact that the other plane was already quite far away, she could tell it was a Czech Airlines flight and, therefore, it was on its way to Prague. As the crew began to parade offering food and sodas, Katka imagined her eventual return: it would occur at some point in time, she could not tell when, and she could not figure out what she was supposed to have accomplished by then. What should her flight back to Prague be like, in general terms, in order to say that she had fulfilled her mission successfully? With a giant package sitting next to her? Would it fit on one seat? In case she finally found it, would they be able to make it travel in the airplane hold for safety? Would it have a penis? Would it jerk off as her friend Sandra once told her the bears in the Český Krumlov castle did? She laughed. A roaring laughter that ripped off the deodorized silence inside the pressurized ambience, and woke up the woman on the aisle seat, who gave her an evil look and asked if she was OK. That was the start of a conversation that would extend throughout the entire flight, including the few-hour stopovers in Paris and San Pablo, and a conversation that would only be interrupted when Katka decided to keep her eyes shut and Delfina –who, when introducing herself, had made a joke about the rhyme between her name and her nationality– went on talking to herself. Just as all beginnings seem to contradict the story that follows, she had at first given her that nasty look after the laughter that had torn her from her sleep.



Translated by Natalia Barry / Edited by Laura Estefanía