Alexander Averin

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Another Good Read

Dear Diary,

Two things. First is a poem that I promised to post for the wonder that is Willow and then a book review. Well not a proper review, just a little mention really.

First the poem by a much loved poet Czeslaw Milosz

On Angels

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seems.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,

in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice -- no doubt it is a valid proof,

as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draw near

another one
do what you can.

Czeslaw Milosz

And now the book.

Guernsey is a place I have visited only once but it left a real impression on me and I loved it. My brother-in-law and his family have lived there for many years, they are lucky so to do. We spent a holiday staying with them many moons ago.

My son was conceived there and he is a young man now. I always remember the feeling I had as the boat set sail from Guernsey back to England at the end of our holiday - I just knew that I was ‘with child‘. So it holds fond memories for me. Apart from that it is a beautiful island; it is genteel, quiet, full of gorgeous bays, magical coves and pretty countryside. Island life is very appealing to me though some say it can be claustrophobic. I guess nothing is perfect.

Enough about me and Guernsey; it is a book I want to promote. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You may have already read it as it is not a new one but if you haven’t I would like to recommend it to you.

It is our library book group's latest 'book of the month' and we meet in a week’s time to discuss it. I must say that I am very grateful to the person who put it forward. Someone else had suggested it to her and I find that word of mouth is always the best recommendation. I had picked the book up before in the library but not been tempted. This has happened to me before, with The Secret Life of Bees for example - that was also recommended to me (or rather forced upon me!) and it also turned out to be another must-read book. I digress.

When I finished the Guernsey book I was bereft. I felt I had left a host of close friends behind and I had that awful feeling ‘What can I read now?’ Nothing will live up to this, And the author Mary Ann Shaffer died a few years ago so there will be no more of her writing to look forward to and she has written nothing else in the past.

I turned again to Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka, a book I had put aside for a while, I had been enjoying it very much prior to switching to the Potato book (I call it the Guernsey book or the Potato book for short). But now Caravans was really too harsh and depressed me greatly, so much so that I couldn’t read it - the description within of the lives and deaths of battery hens didn‘t help. I have put it aside for a time in the future when I am over my too recent literary bereavement.

Mary Ann Shaffer wrote her novel as a series of letters sent to and fro between the characters in the story. It builds gently and softly, layer upon layer and you get to know and love each one of the people purely through their correspondence. As a would-be writer I love this kind of writing. I always love books that are constructed from letters or diaries I won’t give much away as I think it spoils a book to do so; I would like all to unfold for you as it did for me but I will tell you is that it is based upon the story of the Nazi occupation of Guernsey during World War II and a literary society that was set up by a few islanders during that period. It is informative, well-written, light of heart, uplifting, romantic and very moving, everything one needs from a novel. A perfect read really..

So that’s all, if you haven’t yet done so, do read and enjoy.

I started with a poem by Milosz so I may as well fnish with one. It seems appropriate somehow.

And Yet The Books

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages

Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

Czeslaw Milosz

Bye for now,

PS What are you reading?


willow said...

Well, this post happens to be right up my little alley! You know I am totally into Milosz right now, with his book of New and Collected Poems at my elbow as we speak. Also, the lovely Shaista sent me a copy of Guernsey, which is also here on my desk. I need to finish it up. There is a piece at the beginning where a lovely second hand bookshop is described. I could have written it myself!

I'm in heaven with And Yet the Books! Thank you, Cait.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Thank you for reminding me about the "potato" book! It is sitting on my shelf, quite forgotten. I must get to it! I'm currently reading Wolf Hall, by the way.

Lovely, lovely poems. What words were meant to do!

All My Yesterdays said...

I'll have to go find it...
Loved 'The Secret Life of Bees" too!

Pondside said...

I loved the potato book too!
Right now I'm between books - have read Faith Fox and am about to start Three Cups of Tea.

Frances said...

Good evening, Cait.

Thank you, as always for the poetry.

I also love that Potato book.

Library books stacked nearby, waiting for me to give them the grace of relaxed time for appreciation, Keats' Complete Poems and Selected Letters, and ... Andrew Motion's bio of Keats.

Cait, I so wish for a free week to indulge myself with quiet, tea, books, and some lunches with friends. Sadly, no sign of this appearing in the next seven days.


Elizabethd said...

One of my favourite books, one I have read and re read!
I'm reading 'The Girl with the Dragon tattoo', and cant put it down.

Cottage Garden said...

Thank you for these two poems Cait, I'm not familiar with Milosz' work - its so good to be introduced to new poets.
Your review of the Guernsey book has prompted me to add it to my ever expanding wish list!
I'm reading Wolf Hall at the moment and in between I'm dipping into The Ivington Diaries by Monty Don.
Off to check out Willow now!

Jeanne x

CAMILLA said...

What wonderful poems,I had not come across this Poet before Cait, so thank you for introducing me to Milosz.

The Potatoe book sounds very interesting from what you have wrote Cait, so I will reserve this book at my local library on Wednesday, also it will make a good buy for my daughter's MIL's birthday later this year.

Still reading the Ivington Diaries at the moment Cait, lovely book, thanks Cait.


Marcheline said...

Stories by Christopher Morley on the Project Gutenberg website!

Bee said...

I also heard of TGLPPS by word of mouth, and read it in haste -- and then more carefully -- and mourned its passing and felt that it was such a complete and beautiful world. I have given many copies of it to friends, and received TWO copies of it at Christmas. (Those who know me realized, I guess, that it was my kind of book.)

The poems were lovely as well, and also worth re-reading.