It’s a bit cool and cloudy this afternoon as I settle down to write this post. I’ve had a super-busy weekend and a busy day so far, and I’ve got two books to tell you about, so I’ll probably keep both book sections fairly short.
My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss Canadian author Kim Echlin’s novel, Speak, Silence. This novel follows journalist Gota as she prepares to write about the trial in the Hague during the Bosnia War in the late 1990s, where a man who raped, imprisoned and tortured dozens of women faces the charge of not just the crimes against these individuals but crimes against humanity. Gota also hopes to reconnect with Kosmos, her former lover and the father of her daughter, but instead befriends one of the victims who is now a prosecutor in this trial. This short novel managed to pack in plenty of details about the trial proceedings, the relationships between characters, and the experiences of the women who have come forward to bear witness to these crimes. It was a difficult read for sure, and especially with the war in the Ukraine happening right now, making the novel seem even more important and significant. Echlin’s use of poetic language to describe the horrific, the mundane and even the humorous made this book and the subject matter more palatable for even the most sensitive reader, although I had one member say that she had to skip some parts because they were just too much. We discussed the bravery of the witnesses, many who had repressed these experiences and even hidden them from their husbands and families. We discussed our own privilege in never having had to face such threats or cruelty. We wondered how people can go on after such experiences, and how this would change their lives forever. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so the variety of topics discussed and the extent that each reader engaged with the text was a great surprise. It turned out to be a good choice, but I think I should plan to choose a few uplifting books for next year’s list!
After finishing this short novel, I thought I wanted to read something lighter, but I started a mystery that didn’t grab me so I picked up another short novel that I had from the library, Ali Smith’s Companion Piece, which was incredible! Sandy (AKA Sand, Shifting Sand) is a painter who had led a solitary life until her father’s recent illness, which has landed him in the hospital and has made it necessary for her to care for his dog. This is fine, until she receives a call from Martina, a former classmate from university who Sand hasn’t heard from in decades. Martina has been experiencing some strange “auditory hallucinations” in which “curlew” and “curfew” are repeated and then she is instructed to choose. She contacts Sand because she remembers that she had a reputation for being a whiz with words and understanding poetry, and she asks for her advice on what this could mean. All Sand wants to do is to be left alone to work and visit her father, and to stay far, far away from anyone else, as this book is set in the present day during covid. But Martina’s adult children begin infiltrating her life, calling and showing up at her door wanting to know why she’s trying to take their mother away by manipulating her into being different than she always has been. Sand is also a storyteller, and one of her stories, about a girl and her bird, takes on a life of its own in the latter half of the book. This farcical, satirical, hilarious, dystopian-ish, thought-provoking novel about isolation, companions, companionship and the duplicity of language was absolutely unputdownable, a literary masterpiece that makes me want to run out and purchase the other books in the “Seasons” quartet (I’ve read and enjoyed Autumn, which I already have). I guess this is the fifth part in this seasonal quartet (according to at least one review), but it can definitely be read and appreciated on its own. You have to enjoy language, puns, and wordplay and be willing to read carefully and slowly so you don’t miss everything to enjoy this book. I certainly plan to read it again someday and maybe take my time with it a bit more to uncover even more layers of meaning. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys current literary works that can be read as deeply or as superficially as you want, depending on your mood. I know I’m not doing this book justice, that my praise is rather vague, but I can’t really describe the book’s brilliance or Smith’s genius… they just are.
That’s all for today. Have a wonderful Sunday! Bye for now... Julie