Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg

 

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Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg

Polish fiction

Original title – Guguly(unripe)

Translator – Eliza Marciniak

Source – review copy

I choose to jump this up my books to review I only finished it this morning it is another tale of childhood like the previous review and also like tha has a slightly Fable like stories in it . Wioletta Greg grew up in the Jurassic Highlands of Poland , where this novella is set she left in 2006 , she is a poet as well as a writer she won the Griffin poetry prize for her poetry this is her first novella to be translated to English .

Disobeying my mother , I started sleeping with Blacky, Blacky smelled of hay and milk and had a snow-white map of africa around his neck. He would come to me in the night, lie on my duvet and start purring, kneading the covers like dough under his paws .Ever since I found him up in the attic we lived in a strange state of symbois. I’d carry him inside my jumper like a baby, steal cream for him from the dresses and, on Sundays, feed him chicken wings from my soup .

THe cat she has Blacky which disappears as quickly as he appeared in the attic .

This as I said is the story of a childhood , one must assume it is some what from Wioletta’s own childhood . It follows Wiola a young girl , she has a cat that she likes to have slept on her bed even thou her mother has vowed this shouldn’t happen the cat Blacky mysteriously disappears one day , She also likes to collect Match labels this nearly gets her into trouble after she takes them into school for a show and tell. Then they have the excitement of Pope John Paul visiting his homeland and they are told he may go through their village in his popemobile .These are a glimpse of a childhood , in the background we see Lech Walsea  and then when the strikes keep happening through Wiola eyes we see a change of regime when Jaruzelski took control of the Government in 1981 when her favourite tv show isn’t shown more a speech by the General on what is happen Martial law see through a childs eyes not quite getting the full view of what is happening.

In the same year that a rumour spread through Hecktary that the pope would drive past ou village, my father took over the running of the farm and , to my grandmothers dismay, began to introduce reforms, gradually turning our homestead into an unruly and exuberant zoo. It wasn’t just beehives and cages with goldfinches, canaries and rabbits, or a dovecote in the attic, where clumsy nestlings hatched out of delicate eggs that looked like table-tennis balls. In the middle of February,right after my birthday, wanting to cheer me up after the loss of Blacky, Dad pulled out of his jacket a little soggy, squeaking ball of fluff, which by the warmth of the stove gradually began to turn into a several-weeks old Tarta sheepdog.We called him Bear

The year the pope may have come to the village they open a zoo, I remember the roundabout zoo on League of gentlemen .

This is a childhood of a child growing up in Poland , but I was remind how much of what Wiola said about the Poland of the time I remembered . It seems another world now where British tv showed news of what was happening in Poland at that time I still remember without even looking up the face of Lech Walsea and General Jaruzelski. This is full of a love of the place but also a sense of the darkness in the background . Wioletta style of writing is rich like that of Herta Muller full of colour and place the village life  and characters we meet jump of the page. I said I jumped this up the review list as it was similar in nature to The brothers where we see a world through a childs eyes a fable like world These are fragments of her past the style is rather like Laurain the french writer in a way the both evoke the 80’s which is why both grab me , as their memories are intertwined with my own of the times as they are from my own youth when here we took more notice of the outside world than we do now.The title was changed but I like the view of the original one Unripened fruit at the time of fruit picking rather like Wiola in her world not quite an adult in an adult world .

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Catching the old how to adding depth to my blog and a new site from english pen

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I love translation as every one knows ,but part of the problem with me and the blog is constant thinking I think most days about how to do this that and the other .Mainly just way to improve how and what I blog ,one of the main thing I feel is lacking is depth in the content I have reviewed a lot of books in translation but the coverage tends to be in the last five years .I constantly feel there is gaps ,no Albert  Camus ,One Jorge Luis borges story ,One Umberto Eco novel ,a couple of Grass ,not enough African fiction in Translation  and so on and so on the list is virtually endless as is the job of this blog .It’s great reading the Current but for this to work as a real resource I need to add depth to the books under review ,so I need to start adding a few reread books  in my reading pile  and plundering my piles of second-hand buys  in an attempt to build a canon of world lit fill in my gaps in reading ,form a network of how literature has evolved world-wide how book a in say Argentina has had a visible effect on book b from Iraq say ,in building this knowledge and connections here it will make a better resource ,that said I struggle to avoid new reads ,a point I was discussing with Dan from Utterbiblio the other day but as this year I seemed to be reading a book or two more a month ,I will try to fit these older books in .My question is how do you avoid the shiny and New and do you endlessly by books and then have them on shelves for months and months ?

In other news English pen has launched a new website on books in Translation called world bookshelf in partnership with Foyles here ,A number of the English pen associated books mentioned on the site can be found here under review .Like The ravens to name one ,it also has a blog attach to it with post by translators ,the first post is about the rise in translation ,the small rise we as readers need to help climb to an acceptable level of books published in translation ,for me 4.5% isn’t enough we need to get folks reading the wonderful books on this site and out there and let publishers know they can translate more .

Comapartment No.6 by Rosa Liksom

Compartment-No.6

Compartment No.6 by Rosa Liksom

Finnish fiction

Original title – Hytti nro 6

Translator – Lola Rogers

Source -Review copy

The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond, and must be polished, or the luster of it will never appear.

Daniel Defoe

Well when this dropped though my door ,it was one I put straight to the top of the pile ,I’ve enjoyed all the recent books from Finland ,That I’ve read have been gems ,plus I’ve always had a fondness for books set on trains so two ticks meant it was a must read .Well Rosa Liksom is a Finnish based writer ,she is also a well-known artist in Finland .She has written 13 other books ,this Compartment No.6 is the latest by her ,it won the Finlandia prize in 2011 .

When the station bell rang for the second time she saw a muscular ,cauliflower-eared man in a black  working mans quilted jacket and a white ermine hat and with him a beautiful dark-haired woman and her teenage son ,keeping  close to his mother .

When she first sees Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov on the station platform at Moscow .

Compartment No.6 Follows a train ride from Moscow on the Trans Siberian ,an unnamed finnish girl boards the train ,she searches and finds an empty compartment and settles down ,then her silence is shattered when a grizzled looking fellow enters the carriage , He then starts talking to the girl and telling her the story of his life at first she is a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights not quite knowing what to do ,but as the train speeds through the russian hinterlands she warms to this rough diamond and maybe sees part of her own life in his stories ,as the train is stopped they experience the rough conditions of the Soviet era ,this is the late eighties ,initially the girls thoughts are on getting to Mongolia and see some cave paintings as she is an art student and meeting an old friend but as her and Vadium (the man ) ,grow see maybe sees her life in a wider view outside the life she grew up in .

The night speeds through the dark into dim morning , a dogged queue at the shrine of the WC , a dry wash among the puddles of pee ,sputum ,shame and sheepish looks ,shadows of steaming tea glasses in the window ,large flat cubes of Cuban sugar ,paper light Aluminium spoons ,black bread ,viola cheese ..

She captures life on the train so well the sights and sounds of Soviet life at that time .

Well this is one of those books you can tell came from a love of the writer ,it turns out the writer took a journey on the same train in 1986 ,where she herself shared a compartment with a Russian man .Rosa Liksom has the artist eye for detail so the little things of life in Soviet era Russia are caught so well .For me the story remind me of a very old friend that over the years I lost touch with but Like Vadium was a rough diamond ,yes I remembered my fist meeting Steve and thinking god this bloke is just awful he was a friend of a friend but then over the next few meeting ,I saw through the swearing tales of his very hard upbringing and got to know one of the kindest souls I ever met and regret losing touch with ,That said Vadium isn’t quite such a kind heart soul but he is more than he first appeared to the Girl and he is the person that opens her eyes on her world ,so like me with steve this is someone she will remember for the rest of her life .Rather like the last lines of  the film Stand by me ,a writer remember a friend and journey in younger life .

Have you a favourite book based on a train ?

 

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