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Ivan Vladislavic Ponders Air Travel, Sherwood Anderson and Death by Unusual Causes on Lit Hub

101 DetectivesIvan Vladislavić has written a quirky but thoughtful piece for Literary Hub on an article he once read in an in-flight magazine.

Vladislavić was on his way to Stellenbosch University to take part in a “public conversation” with Marlene van Niekerk when he read the article, which was about “people who had met with death in some peculiar or memorable way”.

“Just the ticket when you’re about to leave the ground in an aeroplane,” Vladislavić says.

The article mentions some famous people who met unusual deaths, including stoic philosopher Chrysippus, “who laughed himself to death at the sight of a drunken donkey”, and legendary dancer Isadora Duncan, “who died of a broken neck when her long scarf got caught in the spoked wheel of an open car”. But it is the off-hand treatment of Sherwood Anderson’s demise that causes Vladislavić to brood over the piece and its implications.

But the story that brought a lump to my throat concerned Sherwood Anderson and the perils of putting things in your mouth. It was the shortest of the items that made up the article, a mere paragraph. This is what it said: “Take Mr Sherwood Anderson, for example, who swallowed a toothpick at a dinner party in 1941. This fairly successful writer later developed a case of peritonitis and his life and career came to a grim and painful end. Peritonitis is the inflammation of the serous membrane that lines the abdominal cavity, leading to infection, internal bleeding and a rather long and painful death.”

Several thoughts went through my head. I will order them below, because I am writing, but in truth they came to me in a jumble, as thoughts often do.

I thought: Poor old Sherwood.

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