Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Poland: Swallowing Mercury, by Wioletta Greg

Wioletta Greg is a poet, and it shows in this delightful novella about a young girl growing up in the country in Poland in the dying days of the Communist regime. The young girl at the centre of the book is named Wiola, and one wonders if it is semi-autobiographical. At any rate, the series of small vignettes that make up the book are at times amusing and at times lyrical - but also very gritty. Superstition and religion are in conflict with each other and with politics in this community, but while in some ways it seems like a long-lost rural world, in other ways it is strikingly modern - glue-sniffing, for instance, makes an appearance. The title is taken from an episode in which Wiola breaks a thermometer and swallows the mercury after being sexually molested by the local doctor.

I found the writing very fresh and, despite the grimmer aspects of the story, overall uplifting.

"Swallowing Mercury" was translated by Eliza Marciniak and published by Portobello Books. It was the recipient of an English Pen Award.