… an unintentional one maybe, but I realised that it was a run of female authors that have been taking space on The Bedside Table. And the first of those was another found in translation; Hebrew this time.
One Night, Markovitch is perhaps strange, a tad unusual, but no less delightful. Ayelet Gundar-Goshen takes us back to Palestine, the days of the British Mandate. And she weaves some magic, creates characters, and allows us to live with them.
She opens with charm, and you close the first chapter moist, wanting more. In essence it starts in the war years, as Europe wakes up, and a possible fledgling state offers a safe haven. It’s the route into the country, and the life of those that made it happen – the ordinary farmers who did a bit of this and a bit of that on the side.
But the real charm lies with the people she creates, and what becomes them. I heard of this story in a radio discussion between the author and Stuart Cosgrove, followed by a brief reading. I must read that one, thought I. Disappointed I was not.
I have read a little Rebecca Solnit before. She always gets huge reviews on the quality of her work. I’m not overly enthused, yet, after reading The Faraway Nearby.
It’s a collection of tales woven together, combining a bit of memoir with a dash of legend; from domestic life to travels beyond. Apricots feature strongly, harvested from her failing mother and preserved with the memories. She deals with her own health issues, escaping to Iceland.
And then some terrific Greenlandic legends of sleds made from frozen human tissue and bone, of survival by necessity, liven up the narrative. But overall, still not sure.
One of my books of the year in 2014 was Blossom, the vision for Scotland based on Lesley Riddoch‘s Nordic Horizons work. She was in town recently, an update for 2015. There’s an updated Blossom on the shelves, and for those of us who read the original those updates are in a separate volume, Wee White Blossom. There is of course Hope Over Fear, still.
But we need to learn the huge lessons discovered from Lesley’s Nordic researches; to compare Wick and Hammerfest a century ago to the towns today, and ask why. We need to look at the local governance procedures across the waters, the areas and the numbers involved, the engagement in the democratic process and to ask why. Yes we can. It’s engrossing stuff, and a read that rattles on at a pace. Land reform too, remains one of Lesley’s pet subjects, and rightly so. We can shape a better society. It’s up to us.
Then I found Gertrude Bell, and some of her writings from a century and more ago; the works that were used for the recent Queen of the Desert movie. I had read her Persian Pictures some years previously, but it was good to dip in again. She takes us across to Stamboul, a woman travelling in the late 19th century in preference to the life of a debutante in Victorian London. But the Syrian passages are new to me, and the extracts from Syria: the Desert and the Sown, leave me wanting more.
As Tales From The Queen of the Desert confirms, Gertrude is no Priscilla. She is undoubtedly the star of this quinie quartet, and her writings are as fresh today as when they were penned more than a century ago. I think I might have to watch that movie.