I haven’t read anything new for this week but I have a number of books on my bedside table, variously set in Poland, Lviv and mid-Wales.
The first one I want to talk about is George: A Magpie Diary by Frieda Hughes, forthcoming from Profile Books. Yes, Frieda is the daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, now that we have that out of the way we can get on and talk about the book.
Despite the fact that Frieda’s father was poet laureate, he seemed to think nothing of uprooting his young family every few months on varying whims. After an extremely peripatetic childhood (by the age of 13 she had attended 12 different schools – one can only imagine the trauma) it is not surprising to note that Frieda’s main ambition in life was to have a settled home, ‘somewhere I could plant trees, own a dog.’
Of her school years she writes:
“The other children would always have their friendship groups established at the point where I was propelled into their midst like a clumsy cuckoo, in outgrown street clothes, in the middle of a week, in the middle of a term, in the middle of a year. Sometimes I would attend a school for little more than a few weeks.”
In her childhood, animals and birds were her solace: “they were unheard, as I was; they needed someone to speak for them.” Now in her sixties, Frieda has achieved her dream. She lives in a hall house
(part-Georgian, part-Victorian with an acre of field) in mid-Wales, with an eclectic collection of needy animals and avians.
Photo by Andy Chilton
In answer to the question ‘What role to birds and animals play in your life now?’ she writes,
“I now have 13 owls, two rescue huskies, one royal python, six chinchillas and an ageing ferret called Socks. I live by myself in the middle of nowhere so they are my little feathered and four footed family really. One of the owls, Wyddfa, a male snowy owl with a damaged wing, lives in the kitchen and utility room ….”
For me, book sold.
Other Books Currently on my TBR.
My very friendly lady at my very friendly local bookshop has dropped me round a copy of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk (translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd Jones). I’m late to this one but despite the many laurels cast upon her booker prizewinning novel Flights, I struggled with it. Still, I’m back for another go.
Described by the Guardian as a murder mystery eco-noir thriller and currently touring as a play. Here is the official blurb.
With Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead, Man Booker International Prize-winner Olga Tokarczuk returns with a subversive, entertaining noir novel. In a remote Polish village, Janina Duszejko, an eccentric woman in her sixties, recounts the events surrounding the disappearance of her two dogs. She is reclusive, preferring the company of animals to people; she’s unconventional, believing in the stars; and she is fond of the poetry of William Blake, from whose work the title of the book is taken. When members of a local hunting club are found murdered, Duszejko becomes involved in the investigation. By no means a conventional crime story, this existential thriller by ‘one of Europe’s major humanist writers’ (Guardian) offers thought-provoking ideas on our perceptions of madness, injustice against marginalized people, animal rights, the hypocrisy of traditional religion, belief in predestination – and caused a genuine political uproar in Tokarczuk’s native Poland.
Olga Tokarczuk in 2018 won the International Booker Prize for her novel Flights. She is the author of nine novels, three short story collections and her books have been translated into forty-five languages. In 2019 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
I am also currently reading Andrei Kurkov Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv. There are a host of outlandish press review claims on the back cover – “A Ukrainian Murakami” (Guardian), a Post-Soviet Kafka (Telegraph). Well, possibly. I make no such claim having never read Kafka. I have however read Kurkov’s Ukraine Dairies and Grey Bees and loved them both. I know that he produces remarkable characters and this book promises just as much a rag bag collection as ever, including a former KGB officer who wants to be chums with the people he once spied on. We shall see.