Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Book 28 in my 30 books for 30 years of the EIBF

Pawel Huelle’s event brought the 2012 Edinburgh Book Festival to a close and so it was obvious that his book of short stories would come home with me to prolong the memories.  I intended to read it last autumn but you know how books land on the TBR and wait patiently.  Now that the leaves are turning and the cold winds are blowing, I find that this autumn I am not dreaming of escaping to warmer southern climes (only because I already know when I will next travel south) and so am quite content to snuggle up under the duvet to enjoy Huelle’s melancholy tales set by the cold Baltic sea.

I’ve lived in this unpleasant seascape for 50 years, said Huelle and know that it has shaped me as a human. It has infected me with its culture, cuisine and melancholy.  This collection of stories is a small, modest, summary of those experiences

… which I might add are not as cold and dark as I expected.  Melancholic, for sure, and steeped in local history and folklore. Tracing the past multi-culturalism of a region from which such diversity disappeared following World War II; the failed utopian aspirations of the Mennonites, oral tales of devilish burning spheres on the Bay of Gdansk, the dangers of seeking the original language spoken in the Garden of Eden …

I really enjoyed these stories which were very fluid, populated with interesting and engaging characters, flavoured with detail and imbued with the power to transport. Motifs were repeated throughout pulling the collection together into a coherent whole.  As Chekhov said, a gun appearing in the first act, must be fired in the third.  And so, taking a cue from the master, a bible lost in the first story, is found in the last, only for it …. no, that would be telling.

The edition from Comma Press contains an appendix in which the translator interviews the author about the inspiration for each story.  A delightful idea which divulges, amongst other things, which stories are auto-biographical and which really added to my appreciation of the collection.

I’ll be back for more from both Huelle and Comma Press.