RISING, DISPATCHES FROM THE NEW AMERICAN SHORE, p. 45

Lately my feeling is that I need time to just be here before I can decide whether to stay or not. My guess is that I will tap into so much gratitude for my life alongside this marsh that I may just become an old lady who drowns right here.

— Laura Sewell, resident of Small Point, Maine

BARRACOON: The Door of No Return

It took self a few days to get through the Foreword by Alice Walker and the Introduction by Deborah G. Plant. Now, she’s about to begin the book proper.

Just before the Preface is a photograph:

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That little gap of ocean was all the slaves saw as they crowded together in the Slave House, the last stop before they were loaded onto ships that took them to lands of untold misery.

Zora Neale Hurston in the Preface, dated 17 April 1931:

I was sent by a woman of tremendous understanding of primitive peoples to get this story.

It is so uncommonly sad to read the Preface. The slaves entered the barracoon as human beings; little did they know it would be the last time they would feel themselves as such. From that point onward, they were mere cattle.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Anastasia Ivanovna Medvedkina, Machine Gunner

You’re a writer. Think up something yourself. Something beautiful. Without lice and filth, without vomit . . . Without the smell of vodka and blood . . . Not so frightening as life.

— from The Unwomanly Face of War, by Svetlana Alexievich

Taissia Petrovna Rudenko-Sheveleva, WWII Company Commander, the Moscow Fleet

A woman in the navy . . . that was something forbidden, even unnatural. People thought it would be bad luck for a ship . . .  In our village the women teased my mother to death: what did you give birth to — a girl or a boy? I wrote a letter to Voroshilov himself, asking to be accepted in the Leningrad Artillery School. They accepted me only on his personal order. The only girl.

When I finished the school, they still wanted me to stay on dry land. Then I stopped telling them I was a woman . . . on one occasion, I gave myself away. I was scrubbing the deck, suddenly heard a noise, and turned around: a sailor was chasing a cat that had ended up on the ship, no one knew how. There was a belief, probably from the earliest times, that cats and women bring bad luck at sea. The cat didn’t want to quit the ship, and its dodges would have been the envy of a world-class football player. The whole ship was laughing. But when the cat nearly fell into water, I got frightened and screamed. And it was evidently such a girlish treble that the men’s laughter stopped at once. Silence fell.

I heard the commander’s voice: “Watchman, is there a woman on board?”

“No, sir, Comrade Commander.”

Panic again. There was a woman on board.

. . .  I was the first woman to be a commissioned officer in the navy. During the war I was in charge of arming the ships and the naval infantry.

  • — from an oral interview in Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War (Penguin Books), translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Svetlana Alexievich: Women, War

“I observed more than once how in their conversations the small overrode the great, even history.” — Svetlana Alexievich

“It’s a pity that I was beautiful only during the war . . .  My best years were spent there. Burned up. Afterward I aged quickly . . . ” — Anna Galai, submachine gunner

Antonina Mironovna Lenkova, Car Mechanic

Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War is such powerful oral history (It’s taking self forever to get through; she can’t help poring over each interview).

Antonina Mironovna Lenkova:

My passion was books. I sobbed over the novels of Lidia Charskaya, read and re-read Turgenev.

Note by the author:

  • Lidia Charskaya (1875 – 1938) was an actress at the prestigious Alexandrinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and a prolific writer of popular fiction. Her work was officially banned in 1920.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Reading Svetlana Alexievich, After Returning from the British Library

Self saw the exhibit Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms at the British Library this morning. Despite the fact that she got there practically at opening, the exhibit was very crowded. And she is short. And all the people between her and the display cases seemed very tall. Nevertheless, she is glad she went. On one wall is a quote, dating from the late 11th century. Which is to say, after the Norman Conquest. She forgot to note the identity of the writer, but guesses it must have been a monk:

Nothing has gone well for a long time now. There has been harrying and hunger, burning and bloodshed.

She returned to her rooms and resumed reading Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history of Russian women soldiers: The Unwomanly Face of War. From the essay that begins the book (A Human Being Is Greater Than War):

‘Women’s’ war has its own colors, its own smells, its own lighting, and its own range of feelings. Its own words . . . And it is not only they (people) who suffer, but the earth, the birds, the trees.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR, by Svetlana Alexievich

Ditched Mirror, Shoulder, Signal last night. Ugh. In the end, it was impossible for self to read about the driving lessons with a married instructor that the narrator tries to imbue with romantic significance.

Self is doing much better with the stoicism of Svetlana Alexievich’s women soldiers.

Alexievich: A Human Being Is Greater Than War:

  • Remembering is not a passionate or dispassionate retelling of a reality that is no more, but a new birth of the past, when time goes in reverse. Above all, it is creativity. As they narrate, people create, they “write” their life.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Work-in-Progress: “Residents of the Deep”

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Map of Oceania

Self began this story on her very first visit to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig and has added to it, bit by bit, over the years. She was in Unit # 4 and there was an old maritime book in one of the cupboards.

She doesn’t worry about finishing this story. It will always be “in progress” — it will always exist in middle time, like her visits to this part of Ireland and beautiful Annaghmakerrig.

Here are the opening sentences:

There is something singularly impressive and affecting to the imagination when, in a perfectly calm tropical sea, under a vertical sun, one is able to look down through a depth of thousands of fathoms of clear water and see on the ocean bottom glimpses of the City and all its strange and wonderful objects. The discovery of a populous City existing under fathoms of ocean is an occurrence with no precedent in the annals of exploration, one that overshadows even the discovery of the Americas by Columbus.

Self’s stories are always birthed this way: with the opening sentences. No matter how many drafts her stories go through, the opening sentences never change. If the sentence is strong, it is like a fine, big engine that can power her through — even 20 or 25 pages later — all the way to the end. See the interview she gave to Bellingham Review, the Contributor Spotlight that accompanied their publication of self’s story, Ice. (The first four or five paragraphs of Ice were unchanged from first draft)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

New for the Reading List: The Economist Books, 12 May 2018

  1. The latest from Rachel Cusk: Kudos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series is mentioned in the review: self has been wanting to read Knausgaard. Hopefully, someday.
  2. Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything, by Helen Scales (Bloomsbury Sigma). Scales’s earlier book, about seashells, is Spirals in Time.
  3. Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, by Zora Neale Hurston: written in 1927, finally out in print!!! (Amistad)

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