Introduction

By the time you read this, many more people will have died, but for most of us, what we think of as ‘normal life’ may have resumed – a vaccine; Trump resigned to defeat; a Brexit deal concluded. He also touches, in his essay, on the thorny issue of comparative suffering. The mothers are in limbo; their children are probably, but not certainly, dead. Steffi would weep, he thinks, at the sight of the flies on the dead man’s face; ‘the dust upon the paper eye / and the burst stomach like a cave’. The news? Introduction
Sigrid Rausing

‘Perhaps in isolation a new form of communication is emerging, expressing what readers and writers have always told one another, via books and letters and on the literary stage: I hear you. Vergissmeinnicht’, that Douglas begins to think of the dead soldier as anything other than simply an enemy. Lockdown restrictions? He has lost his precarious sense of belonging in Brexit Britain; lost his poetic voice onstage and his confidence in teaching. Progressive white people sometimes fear saying the wrong thing when the issue is race and their interlocutor is not white; this silence, or fragility, contributes to Ravinthiran’s sense of alienation.  
Poet Vidyan Ravinthiran meditates on similarly ambiguous themes in his autobiographical essay, ‘Victim and Accused’. The proximity to illness? He visits a group of mothers in Sri Lanka whose children – mostly young men, but women too – went missing in the civil war. ‘But,’ he writes, ‘I’m curious about the refusal to countenance a connection between disparate experiences   – a route by which empathy could travel.’
We have now conducted two Zoom launches, for the summer and autumn issues of Granta. International media and aid organisations descended on this small town on the edge of a volcano, mingling with refugees who, within days, started succumbing to a cholera epidemic. Tom told me that he took the title from a poem by Keith Douglas, written during the North Africa campaign of World War II. I have been moved – this sounds trivial, but bear with me – by seeing the chat bar on the side fill up with warm and respectful comments as people listened to contributors reading: that too, it seems to me, is a route by which empathy travels. Douglas and his group discover a dead German soldier in the desert, on recaptured land – ‘Three weeks gone and the combatants gone / returning over the nightmare ground’. Hilsum, who had reported from Rwanda during the genocide, knew the history well, but what do you do with the knowledge that the victims of today are yesterday’s perpetrators? The title is Vergissmeinnicht, German for forget-me-not, the small blue flower. There can be no comparison, obviously, between his own suffering and the suffering of the mothers in Sri Lanka. Vergissmeinnicht. Within a year or so Douglas himself was dead, killed in Normandy, aged twenty-four. The title of this issue – taken from Dan Shurley’s story – reflects fatigue, and perhaps sadness. But, in defiance of sadness, we are introducing a vibrant new voice: Catalan poet Eva Baltasar, with ‘Permafrost’, an extract from her forthcoming novel. 55,000 dead and counting, in the UK, as I write. It’s only when they find a photograph in the gun pit, signed ‘Steffi. Journalists staying in colonial villas stepped cautiously around bodies, instructed not to bring abandoned children to the aid tents, because all hope of reuniting them with their parents would then be lost. The government has promised records, but none have been produced. Lindsey Hilsum remembers reporting from Goma, a small border town in what was then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees from Rwanda. You are not alone. There was no clean water, and at times no water at all. Ravinthiran is in his own, less desperate, limbo. Mothers and fathers, who may have taken part in genocide, lay dying on the side of the road. Perhaps in isolation a new form of communication is emerging, expressing what readers and writers have always told one another, via books and letters and on the literary stage: I hear you.  
Artwork © Tom Hammick   I don’t know. Isolation? By April 1994 the genocide was over, and some two million Hutus, many of them killers or collaborators, were fleeing the country. Many of those children must have died. You are not alone.’

The cover of this issue is a painting by Tom Hammick. Some of us, I notice, carry on almost as normal, but aren’t we all a bit frayed around the edges, worn out by – what exactly, if we are not ill?