A Dream in Polar Fog … a review

I chanced upon a wonderful book. A Dream in Polar Fog is written by Yuri Rytkheu, a Chukchi writer. It is translated from the original Russian by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse. During the Covid-19 crisis, the wonderful people over at Archipelago Books are offering it for free, amongst many of their other books.

I have always like Russian literature – it is rich, poetic and most authors write of a world we know very little about. There was always a smattering of fantastic books by Maxim Gorky, Mikhael Sholokov, Pushkin and Boris Polevoi around in my childhood. And I still own so many books that were translated into English by Progress Publishers. One day, I would love to visit. But in the meantime, books!

What I loved about this book is that it is set in a remote area near the Kamchatka Peninsula, where a Canadian sailor is stuck. What starts off an as entrapment in John’s mind turns into life at the end of it. The stunning polar tundra is described in detail – the endless snow, the fauna of the bears, foxes and walruses, and the dance of the norther lights. An imaginative mind is welcomed to dance with the words. Shamans preach and hunters hunt in these far byond nowehere lands, and it is fascinating to learn how the Chukchi survive.

It is week 3 of isolation here in the UK and this book was great to put everything into perspective. So many communities like these are proponents of simple living and being one with nature. Eat what you can gather, save up for the harsh winters and share even if you have little – all of these things come through John’s life. But now, they are all starting to come through in all of ours too – as the world is struggling to adapt to the new normal.

The book is free, so I 100% recommend it. And stay safe, wherever your home is.

Zlata’s Diary … a review

Most of my reading this year has been guided by the latest releases picked up by The Wee Review and Neon Books. So it has been a while since I picked anything else up. This book caught my eye in a second hand Christmas book sale and the blurb looked very interesting. This is the story of Zlata Filipovich who lives in Sarajevo. She is 11 years old in 1991, when war breaks out in Bosnia and Herzegovina and she starts recording her experiences in a diary.

If it sounds similar to Anne Frank’s Diary, it is. It tells the story of a different war, through the eyes of a different girl, but fundamentally, the story is the same. The futility of war, the robbing of innocent childhoods and the utterly despicable nature of war is captured here.

Zlata is a regular pre-teen when war breaks out – going to school, getting top grades, loving piano and living life. But slowly the climate in her city becomes suffocating. And her family go into living in one room – often without heating or electricity or food. They lose many loved ones, their family friends, all of Zlata’s schoolfriends leave and they take on refugees from other parts of the country. All of this is written into ‘Mimmi’ which is what Zlata calls her diary.

Unlike Anne Frank, this novella has a happy ending. Zlata’s diary becomes famous in about two years, and her family and she are able to move to Paris because of its worldwide success. It is an unlikely tale, and goes the full gamut of emotions. But it provides a glimpse into what life is like during modern warfare and it brings home the horrific reality that hundreds of thousands of people are living in many countries today.