Gil Elliot – the landscape

Gil Elliot , Twentieth Century Book of the Dead, 1972 pp 189 -190

The landscape might begin with that broad diffusion of death over the plains and poor hills of China and Mexico dislocated by war and revolution; with life draining back from exhausted towns into a countryside and into Novgorod. The peasants of those vast provinces…wither under the blight of man-made famine, [as] marching armies uproot them from the shallow misery and leave them on the bare earth battered and bleached like old cardboard boxes smelling sour in the sun and the rain. You might see some such landscapes as familiar, others with fresh surprises like waking on a long train ride as rings of dusk creep hills recalling new countries and old stories: and indeed the citizens of these parts are cosmopolitan and have have many stories. Nigerians and Germans alike squeezed to death by economic blockade, Armenians massacred in the gaps between large and small wars, train-loads of Europeans dying between frontiers: Paraguayans, Chinese, French, Americans falling to disease in the intervals of fighting. Truly a universal nation, of which impressions must be as fleeting as those tantalising glimpses of quiet static things from a train window, in the foreground rushing past and in the distance a slow revolving panorama…. When it comes to an industrial landscape you can not see so much, apart from general greyness, black chimneys, slag heaps and waste pools, from a train window. But of course! the railway sidings, so important to those nineteenth century regions of the dead. The labour camp regions, with Vorkuta and Karaganda at the very end of those railway lines that push up into the Arctic and the east, down to Siberia and the south. The thick-clanging of trucks that took the living and half living from the ghettos of Poland, Russia and the Baltic States: and pumped eager uniformed lads into the battle regions of the Western front, the Ukrainian front, the Don, the Caucasus, the Italian front. The concentration camps with their own railway sidings.

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