Maresi, The Red Abbey Chronicles by Maria Turtschaninoff (Finland)

translated by Annie Prime (from Swedish) – like Tove Jansson, Maria Turtschaninoff is from a Swedish speaking part of Finland.

A Utopian Island of Women

Maresi Finland YA WIT MonthRed Abbey is situated on the island Menos, run by women, a kind of educational refuge that has elements of sounding like a boarding school and a convent. On the mainland some are not even sure if it is myth or reality, but they send their girls there in hope that the rumours are trues. We learn that Maresi was sent there by her family during ‘Hunger Winter’ and that the abundance of food, the genuine care and education she is given makes it a place she adores.

There are many reasons why a girl might come to the island. Sometimes poor families from the coast lands send a daughter here because they can not provide for her. Sometimes a family notice that their daughter has a sharp and enquiring mind and want to give her the best education a woman can get. Sometimes sick and disabled girls come here because they know the sisters can give them the best possible care…Sometimes girls come as runaways… Girls who show a thirst for knowledge in cultures where women are not allowed to know or say anything. In these lands, rumour of the Abbey’s existence lives in women’s songs and and forbidden folk tales told only in whispers, away from enemy ears. Nobody talks openly about our island but most people have heard of it anyway.

The Red Abbey Maresi feminist fantasy YAThere are two maps at the front of the book, one of Red Abbey, a walled area showing various buildings, such as Novice House, Knowledge House, Body’s Spring, Temple of the Rose, named steps and courtyards and a map of the island drawn by ‘Sister 0 in the second year of the reign of our thirty-second mother, based on the original by ‘Garai of the Blood in the reign of First Mother’

As the novel opens a ship is sighted and the girls are joined by Jai, who becomes shadow to Maresi, it is clear she has been traumatised by an experience and continues to live in fear, believing that what she ran from will not relent until she is found.

Most of the first two thirds is made up of understanding their daily life, they are being educated both intellectually and develop a strong connection to nature. The community is able to survive and thrive due to their sustainable harvesting of a red dye from blood snails. Maresi loves nothing more than acquiring knowledge and spends every evening in Knowledge House reading the scrolls.

That evening I chose the ancient tales of the First Sisters. I have always loved reading about their journey to the island, their struggle to build Knowledge House and their survival in the first few years with nothing but fish and foraged wild fruits and berries as sustenance. Life on the island was difficult for the first few years. It did not get easier until some decades later, when they discovered the bloodsnail colony and the silver began to flow in.

Only women and girls are permitted on the island and when a threat seems imminent it requires the women to use all their knowledge and resources and it is as this happens that the girls begin to discover their unique talents and the courage to use them.

Sisterhood, Knowledge, Empowerment and True Courage

Bloodsnails Maresi Red Abbey

Photo by Alin Luna on Pexels.com

Described as a tale of sisterhood, survival and fighting against the odds, I chose this because it sounded like an empowering read for young women/adolescents and because it has been imagined and written by a woman from another culture/language, drawing on her storytelling tradition and experience.

I really enjoyed the story and characters and the community created on the island, it reminded me a little of Madeleine Miller’s Circe, who lives on an island, only she is in exile, so mostly alone, but it has that similar utopian feeling of the desire to create a nurturing environment where women live in harmony with nature and have access to education and knowledge, without the demands or agendas of men or the family dynamic and its expectations.

Maresi is the first in a trilogy, also described as feminist fantasy, the second book is Naondel and the the final Maresi Red Mantle.

Where Does the Inspiration Come From?

What was the inspiration behind the Red Abbey? And what kind of research did you undergo during the writing process? – from an interview by Bluebird Reviews 

It all started with a photograph exhibition.

I saw the exhibition many years before I began working on Maresi. It took place in Helsinki, and showcased photographs from Mount Athos, a Greek peninsula with a 1000-year-old monastic community. The pictures were breathtakingly beautiful and the houses of the monasteries represented crumbling splendour. Many of them were perched on top of steep cliffs, like eagles’ nests. I walked around with my notebook, making notes and getting very inspired.

And also, angry.

Because for a thousand years, no woman has been allowed on the island. Even today only male pilgrims are able to set foot on the island. The women get to take a boat ride and view the monasteries from the sea. And I thought “How is it possible that there’s a place today, in Europe, where women aren’t allowed?” This thought was immediately followed by: “And what would happen if I turned it on its head and there was an island, and an Abbey, where only women and girls are allowed? But because it would be set in my fantasy world, there would be a concrete reason why men are not allowed.”

Can you tell us a bit about the mythology of the Mother, Maiden, and Crone? What’s the background story and where did the idea come from? – interview by Huriyah Quadri, The Selkie

As I created the Red Abbey for the first book, I knew the women and girls had to worship something – it’s an abbey, after all – but in this fantasy world, our religions don’t exist. So I looked further back in history, to what humans believed in before the three monotheistic religions became dominant, and found goddess-worshipping cultures. I researched them, stole the best bits and made my own concoction.

The Author, Maria Turtschaninoff

Teenage and Young Adult author, Maria Turtschaninoff was born in 1977 and lives in Finland. She is the author of many books about magical worlds and has been awarded the Swedish YLE Literature prize and has twice won the Society of Swedish Literature Prize. She has also been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the Carnegie Medal.

Burn by Patrick Ness

I have read two books by Patrick Ness, the unforgettable, award winning YA (Young Adult) A Monster Calls and one of his two novels for adults The Crane Wife.

The first one was written with the help of a powerful presence, in that it was the brainchild of the writer Siobhan Dowd , who didn’t live long enough to write the story herself, requesting that Ness take over and do it for her readers. And what he accomplished as a result was extraordinary, a dark tale featuring a monstrous yew tree that torments a grieving boy.

I wanted to read more, so chose The Crane Wife a modern retelling of a Japanese myth he read as a child. And enjoyed it as well.

Burn Patrick Ness Dragon FantasyDragon Symbolism

Seeing that he had a new book out and being in a reading lull, I decided to read this latest YA novel Burn, a book that features a world where dragons are employed as farm workers and a cult of Believers reveres them, one of the members has been told by their leadership and foretold by a prophecy that he must stop certain events from occurring.

On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957 – the very day, in fact, that Dwight David Eisenhower took the oath of office for the second time as President of the United States of America – Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm.

Featuring two dragons,  it reads more like realistic fiction than fantasy, I’d hoped the dragon presence to be greater, but it seems we only need a couple to be taught a lesson. We like dragon energy and symbolism here.

 Symbolically the dragon brings us a message of strength, courage and fortitude, they are messengers of balance and magic, encouraging us to tap into our psychic nature and see the world through the eyes of mystery and wonder.

The book is set in the 1950’s in America, racism and a mistrust of foreigners brings two young people together; the Russian blue dragon Kazimir (it’s set in the Cold war era) intervenes when the racist, trouble-making Deputy sheriff steps out of line.

“A Russian dragon,” the Deputy said. “In my town. With the way the world is today. You a Communist, claw?”

“I am a dragon,” the dragon said simply.

“You a threat to my country?”

“I do not know. Are you a threat to mine?”

The dragon might be friend or foe, depending on whether you believe Sarah, her father or the sheriff. But for sure, it has something to do with the prophecy that is driving everyone towards their farm for a bit of a showdown.

A couple of FBI agents are involved, creating an atmosphere of suspense as they pursue the person believed to be about to create chaos in their world across the country.

As we read, we are not sure whether the dragons are a force for good or otherwise and that aspect of the mystery carries through to the end and left me wondering whether there might be a sequel to the story as there were many elements and questions I had, that could have been explored, that may have been held back deliberately. Though the mystery is solved, there is a desire to explore further the world that has been discovered.

Teenage Reading and YA Fiction

Interesting for fans of fantasy teenage fiction, introducing historical-political elements about society in that era, the way foreigners and those of colour are mistrusted and maltreated, paranoid attitudes about communism, gay rights and cult fanaticism.

And the superheroes are those of our imagination, fire-breathing dragons and innocent not-yet corrupted children.

Do you like to read outside your normal genre occasionally? Have you read Patrick Ness?

 

Just Like Tomorrow by Faïza Guène

How Can Life Be So Bad When You’re Living in PARADISE?

Kiffe kiffeI came across Faïza Guène’s  Kiffe kiffe demain translated as Just Like Tomorrow by Sarah Ardizzone, a french contemporary novel for young adults, via a wonderful blog A Year of Reading the World that is being turned into a book*.

Ann Morgan, inspired by the arrival of the multitude of athletes who came to London for the Olympics, decided to read a book from every one of 196 independent countries.

Each country presented a challenge, with only 3% of books in the UK being translated, she had to call on the help of her network and followers to find an English translation for many locations.

Faïza Guène

Faïza Guène

Faïza Guène is a young screenwriter who, after being involved in a local community project, began directing her own films. Born in France of Algerian parents, and growing up in a northern suburb of Paris, she writes from the heart of a challenging suburb, in a part of the city that few from the outside know about and about which little is written in literature.

Fifteen-year-old Doria lives alone with her illiterate mother, abandoned by a father who is seeking a younger, more fertile wife in his birthplace, Morocco. The story follows Doria’s unadulterated thoughts, which for most of the narrative are quietly despondent yet noisy with attitude. She is not prone to drama, although she observes it around her, as if from within a bubble and provides a running commentary on everything in her mind,and on the page.

Peppered with teenage slang, suburban Franco-Arabic dialect, the voice is unique and easily conjures an image of what life must be like for Doria, as she waits to be thrown out of school and pushed into a career she has no desire for. Her low expectations of life make the small gains she and her mother make all the more pronounced and the humour all the funnier.

What Mum really likes watching on telly in the evenings is the weather forecast. Specially when it’s that presenter with brown hair, the one who tried out for the musical The Birdcage but didn’t get it because he was over the top…So there he was, talking about this huge cyclone in the Caribbean, and it was like oh my days, this crazy thing getting ready to do loads of damage. Franky, this hurricane was called. Mum said she thought the western obsession with giving names to natural disasters was totally stupid. I like it when Mum and me get a chance to have deep and meaningful conversations.

It is a slice of life, coming of age story, of a second generation teenage immigrant living her life far from the images of the city of Paris that come to mind for most of us. It is a book that has been widely translated into other languages and offers a unique insight into teenage life for those on the fringe and an excellent alternative to the more well-known French literature out there.

*Reading the World: Postcards from my Bookshelf will be published by Harvill Secker in 2015.