The first guest post by one of my Spring Sofa Spotlight authors, last week’s Writers on Location by Sarah Day on the island of San Domino, proved very popular and today I am pleased to be welcoming the next author in this series. Laura McVeigh joins me to talk about a very different place, the Hindu Kush, one of the settings of her novel Under the Almond Tree (My review follows):
Under the Almond Tree – a story about the effects of war and displacement – is a novel that criss-crosses multiple countries with the narrative traveling constantly back and forth across histories, time, borders and landscapes. In the writing, all of these locations were equally intriguing to explore – whether Buryat nomads settling down for the night in the desert, or the train edging along Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, or the narrator making her way across the Pamir Highway and crossing Central Asia, helped by the kindness of strangers.
The legacy of conflict is much in evidence, large landmine clearing programmes underway, rocks painted with white dots, then the rocks being washed downstream, no longer marking the original cleared sites. Various military forces have a presence in the region and there is a palpable sense of tension.
When the winds come up in the valley, a sandstorm blankets everything. You can see nothing and the mountains disappear.
I stayed with a Badakhshani family – teachers, poets and musicians – and we ate together, exchanged stories, watched the children dancing and playing to the music, and singing as we shared laughter together – and although it was very far away, for a moment it felt like home. Is ‘home’ place or people? Is it love, or memories? Is home more itinerant; a feeling, something we carry within us?
At night, I stood outside in the courtyard looking up at the sky, at the mountains all around. There was no light pollution, no city noise, no planes flying overhead – just the immense inky blackness of the night sky lit by the stars. This too is something we all share.
When I left, the dust storm of the day before had passed, and the sky was blue once more as I traveled along the dirt road at the roof of the world.
IN BRIEF: My View of Under the Almond Tree
(see the Spotlight for a synopsis)
This novel immersed me into an unfamiliar world – I was ‘with’ Samar on every stage of her extraordinary journey, and only those who have read it will realize the significance of this. It is commendable for the skill and daring of the storytelling and the beautiful writing, but above all, for the compassionate but uplifting portrayal of resilience in the face of unimaginable suffering. At a time of ongoing refugee crisis, this book serves as a timely reminder of the human cost of war and displacement, and that those affected are not numbers, but individuals with the same needs we all have and can so easily take for granted when they are satisfied. Desperately sad in places, but a book I hope will be widely read for many reasons.
Next week my guest will be Addison Jones, author of Wait for me, Jack, with a fascinating and evocative piece on post-war California, the era in which the book is set.Advertisements