Butterfly by Yusra Mardini

From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph

Yusra is the middle sister of three daughters living with their parents in Damascus. Their father is a swimming coach, obsessed with training his two eldest girls to excel. Being in the pool is one of their first memories and being pushed to succeed an ordinary part of childhood, as habitual as their going to school.

Not everyone in the community approves of the girls swimming, it clashes with tradition, despite the diversity that exists.

A lot of people don’t understand about us swimming. They don’t see the hard work and dedication it takes us to swim. They just see the swimsuit. Neighbours and parents of kids at our school tell Mum they don’t approve. Some say wearing a swimsuit past a certain age is inappropriate for a young girl. Mum ignores them. The summer I’m nine, Mum even decides to learn to swim herself.

Nothing gets in the way of the girls training, even when they don’t feel like it or have an injury, it’s clear their Dad is a disciplinarian and is instilling strength and resilience in his daughters, while their mother is there watching, waiting and supporting them all the way through.

When Yusra is six they watch they watch the finals of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games on television. It’s the 100m men’s butterfly and their Dad tells them to watch lane four. It’s the American Michael Phelps. It’s a defining moment for the Yusra.

I never chose to be a swimmer. But from that moment on I’m hooked. My gut burns with ambition. I clench my fists. I no longer care what it takes. I’ll follow Phelps to the top. To the Olympics. To gold. Or die trying.

Though she is in the background of Yusra’s story, I find the mother’s quiet strength and nurturing of significance in the story. Both her own personal development and her continuity in being there for the girls.

Photo by Heart Rules on Pexels.com

Following a terrible scene where her elder sister Sara is having her shoulders stretched and her collar-bone is broken, the doctor insists she rests. Her father is displeased, while her mother tries to help.

Since learning to swim she’s been teaching water aerobics at a hot springs spa south of Damascus, close to the city of Daraa. She’s branched out into massage therapy and tries her new skills out on Sara’s shoulders.

As the political situation in Syria deteriorates, it becomes dangerous for them to return to their home, culminating in one evening when they return from visiting family to find tanks at either end of their street. A soldier holding his assault rifle in the air tells him to take his family and leave.

‘I’m not leaving my house,’ he says.

‘Then get us out of here at least,’ says Mum, her voice choked with panicked tears.

He drives them some distance away, then sets off on foot alone to return to their home,  a mistake, though he won’t learn his lesson yet. They are forced to abandon their home and stay with family, until they find another apartment in a quieter part of town.

Though they continue at school and in the pool, people are beginning to leave. Their father is offered a coaching job in Jordan and departs, alone, sending his salary to them regularly.

One by one, friends and neighbours drift away. Groups of siblings, whole friendship groups, families disappear.  The majority leave for Lebanon or Turkey and then overstay their tourist visas. Some of them end up in Europe. Most of the boys my age are either planning to leave or have already gone. Once guys hit eighteen, they’re eligible for compulsory military service in the army. Only students and men without brothers are exempt. In normal times, its just a fact of Syrian life. But now there’s no doubt: going into the army means kill or be killed.

Yusra turns seventeen, her sister has quit swimming and for a period she does as well, without her father there fighting in her corner, she loses some of her will, until she meets her friends again and decides to return. But when a bomb falls on the building, everything changes.

Sara announces she is leaving, and Yusra will go with her. They will send for their mother and younger sister when they arrive in Europe. They are heading for Germany and will have to take a small boat from Turkey across to Greece, paying smugglers at various places along the way.

It’s a fraught journey, the boat crossing particularly, an overloaded vessel that looks like it won’t make it, that forces the sisters into the water for hours to lighten the load to prevent it sinking. The sea is a danger, but there will be more worrying experiences ahead as they attempt to cross hostile borders and find accommodation in some countries  that refuse to rent rooms to Syrians.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s not until they arrive safely in Berlin that it begins to dawn on them, the immensity of what they have been through. Once settled in the refugee camp and as they begin their asylum process, Yusra finds a pool to train in and opportunities open up for her and Sara, and soon she is on track to attain that childhood dream, though not in the manner she expected, there remain hurdles to confront. And the trauma of others which they’re seeing daily on their Facebook timelines continues, lessening any joy they might feel.

When she is struggling to accept the offer of being part of the newly formed Refugee Olympic Team, it is her father who reminds her that it isn’t always about the swimming.

‘Very few Syrians get this chance to speak up,’ he says.  ‘You can be their voice. You know a big part of their story because you’ve been through it too. It’s an opportunity for all of us to be heard.’

It’s an incredible story of a young woman and her family, who becomes something of a reluctant heroine and inspiration for young people from the region and for refugees everywhere. It’s very honest, she shares her struggles in accepting the role and opportunity she is given, while being grateful to those who’ve welcomed, helped and made it possible, all the while aware of the continued struggles and horrors being faced by those who couldn’t leave or died trying.

Further Reading

Illustrated Children’s Book – Yusra Swims by Julie Abery

Article in Guardian – Butterfly by Yusra Mardini review – the refugee swimmer whose story swept the world

Women and Hollywood Article – Sally El Hosaini Will Direct Yusra Mardini Biopic “The Swimmers”

Holistic News – 2 Min Video Introducing Yusra Mardini, a Syrian swimmer that represented refugees at the Olympics in Rio.

Rio Highlights – Yusra Mardini’s 100m Butterfly race

Sunday Morning Haiku

 

Spring Morning I

Sun rays pass through boughs

Petals wave back with longing

The lantern waiting.

Spring Morning II

Small branches in leaf

Bow to and fro in union

A family of trees.

Haiku of Life

A haiku is a form of poetry that generally consists of three lines, where the first and last contain five syllables and the middle line is made up of seven.

The subject is usually the natural world, a topic that tends to awaken people to their sense of oneness with nature and the divine.

Every morning at the moment I am reading a chapter of Courageous Dreaming by Alberto Villoldo and this morning I read Chapter Six, Courage As Action, which ends with this exercise to create your own haiku.

He suggests to:

Observe the trees, the grass, the birds and the insects, then write a few poems.  Let go of any judgments such as I can’t do this or I have no talent for writing. Just do it.

At the beginning of each chapter, he shares a thought-provoking quote, I shall end with that. I hope you feel inspired to write a Haiku for yourself too.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes

courage is the quiet voice at the end of

the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

– MARY ANNE RADMACHER

Top Five Translated Fiction

Translated Fiction

Tilted Axis Press who published the award winning Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Human Acts asked me to write an article about why I read translated fiction, so rather than repeat myself, if you are interested in a deeper explanation you can read more about my motivations by clicking on the link below:

“Reading in Translation, A Literary Revolution” by Claire McAlpine

At the end of the article is a list of titles I recommended with links to my reviews. But for today I’m just going to pull up from my memory five books that have stayed with me that at the time of reading transported me elsewhere and that I remember being excellent and memorable reads.

That’s one of the reasons I continue to love reading translations, they’re a form of armchair travel, not to see the sights of other countries, but to enter the minds of their storytellers, to see things from another perspective or delight in discovering one similar one to our own. To break out and away from the narrow influence of the culture we are within. Most of what we are offered to read from traditional channels was imagined, created and published only in English, less than 5% of fiction originates from other languages.

Women in Translation

It’s hard to only choose five especially as I’m going to refrain from choosing titles I have mentioned already in a list I made in August 2019 leading up to #WITMonth.  Do check out the list below, it contains some of all time favourites.

My Top 10 Books by Women in Translation in 2019

To put this into context, I have read approximately 180 books translated from other languages. In choosing the five listed below, I’m trying to be mindful of what I think people might enjoy during this time of isolation.

My Top Five Works of Translated Fiction

1. The Yellow Rain by Julio Llamazares tr. Margaret Jull Costa (Spain)

This was a fabulous read for me and one I’ve never forgotten and often recommended, it’s a quiet, short read, an elegy that evokes the end of an era, in this case one man living alone in a village in the Pyrenees long after everyone else has abandoned it. It might sound melancholic, but this is the nearest literature comes to being like staring at a painting and admiring the creation. Here’s what I said in my review (click on the title to read the whole review):

Written in the future, the past and the present, in a lyrical style that for me never depresses though we might think it bleak, this ode to a changing landscape that is reverting back to its true nature is haunting, gripping, colourful and soul destroying all at the same time.

2. Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters by Maria José Silveira tr. Eric M.B. Becker (Brazil)

This is one of the more recent translations I’ve read, and one of the most accomplished, for it dares to tell a potted history of Brazil through interconnected stories of daughters, from 1500 to the modern age. They are grouped into five eras providing an insight into how easily humanity loses its connection to its  origins, thinking itself above the rest.

There are occasional traits that pass from one generation to another, in this line of women who range

from slaves to slave-owners, revolutionaries to idle society ladies, muses to artists, powerful matriarchs to powerless victims, Indians to respectable “white” women whose eyes would “light up in shock” if they found out about their indigenous (and African, and working class) ancestry. Enrico Cioni

3. Nothing But Dust by Sandra Colline tr. Alison Anderson (France)

Although it is a French novel, it’s set in the Patagonia steppe, Argentina, about four boys growing up in harsh conditions on a farm under the rule of a tyrannical mother. It’s one of those novels that makes you feel like you are there, willing the youngest son Raphael on as he is challenged by his two older brothers and harsh mother.

It evokes a strong sense of place whether that is the dry, dusty, harshness of the plateau or the lush, fertile, freedom of the forest the youngest son encounters when he must track down two missing horses. It’s a fantastic, compelling novel of the human condition, in an original setting and family dynamic. Thought provoking, atmospheric, charged with tension, it will stay with you long after reading.

4. The Whispering Muse by Sjón tr. Victoria Cribb (Iceland)

I remember reading this novella and the wonderful feeling it evoked as it was New Years Day in 2016 and my first read of the year. The story takes place on a ship in 1949, the narrator is a passenger and Caeneus, the second mate of the freighter, is a storyteller.

Each night he tells part of the story of Jason and the Argonauts, the epic poem by Apollonius of Rhodes, (Hellenistic poet, 3rd century BC), so reading the book necessitated a number of welcome diversions to look up that story and an increasing awareness of the connection between what we are reading and that ancient myth. Entertaining, intriguing, intellectually stimulating and fun, I scribbled all over that book in pencil and had fun learning so much more than what was written between the pages.

5. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan tr. Irene Ash (France)

Because I live in France, I probably read more French books (in translation or original language) than any other foreign language, despite reading from more than 20 countries annually, so it’s not surprising to find a second French title on my list.

Bonjour Tristesse is a slim, coming-of-age classic of Cecile, a 17 year-old girl on holiday with her father at a villa on the Meditarranean, near St Raphael. I loved it.

Jealous of her father’s intentions to remarry she behaves badly and then regrets it, at the same time expressing remarkable insight into her flaws and misgivings. She knows this marriage will turn her and her father into happy, civilised beings, yet she deeply resents it.

Utterly engaging, I was riveted, I loved the ability her character had to understand the personalities around her and her own flaws, despite being unable to stop the mischief she provoked; not to mention this was written when the author was only 18 years old herself. I’m not usually a big fan of classics, but the French writers Françoise Sagan and Colette have me overcoming my usual reluctance.

Do you have an all time favourite read of translated fiction? Share in the comments below. I’m always looking to add other people’s favourites!

If you missed them, here are the rest in the series I’ve posted so far, more still to come!

Further Reading During Our Confinement

My Top 5 on the TBR (To Be Read)

My Top 5 Spiritual Well-Being Reads

My Top 5 Nature Inspired Reads

My Top 5 Uplifting Fiction Reads

Top Five Uplifting Fiction

Finding Uplifting Fiction that isn’t genre specific like Romance or ChickLit is quite difficult. Since you’re unlikely to have these on your shelves, I’m  including a link to a longer Goodreads List described also described as Uplifting:

When you close these books you feel happy to be alive, secure that life is worth living, and motivated to get out there and live an awesome life.

Some of these books may deal with the dark side of life, but they still convey that overall it is good to be alive and leave you feeling uplifted.

GoodReads Top 100 Uplifting Fiction

A lot of the books on their list are children’s classics or novels by familiar authors such as Jane Austen and Elisabeth Von Arnim (I’ve read Elizabeth & Her German Garden and The Enchanted April); others are more contemporary and were popular when they were published like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Life of Pi, The Secret Life of Bees, The Goldfinch, The Shipping News, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

None of my choices are on that list, but these five below are my personal favourites.

Top Five Uplifting Fiction

1. Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

Inspired by an Alaskan legend, this is a wonderful short read featuring the original inhabitants of the interior of Alaska; nomads they moved about in search of food according to the weather.

During a particularly harsh winter the group makes a decision regarding the two old women, which results in a sudden change in their attitudes and demands that they recall and put into practice everything they have learned over their long lives. It’s a wonderful, inspiring story, an ode to the importance of sharing experiences through friendship and community and a warning against complacency.

2. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

This book is a modern classic in America, so I expected it to be a slower read than usual, but I was totally hooked right from its opening pages.

Not only is it a compelling story of a woman’s search for fulfillment, it is an elevating study of character and consciousness emphasized by the use of dialect that draws the reader into the narrative as if it’s being read to you. A unique and exciting reading experience once you get into the rhythm of it.

3. The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

Antoine Laurain is a French author who writes whimsical, humorous novellas and this was the first translated into English. They’re a guaranteed light, uplifting read. The President’s Hat is about what happens when President Mitterand leaves his hat behind in a restaurant and someone else picks it up. That person too leaves it behind, and so on, it is a nod to the nostalgia of Parisian life told as a kind of fairy tale, with its connection to a revered hat-wearing President of the 1980’s, whom Laurain describes as being like a noble Florentine Prince. Also inspired by the loss of a much loved hat and an active imagination!

His other books are similarly uplifting, The Red Notebook, Vintage 1954, or the slightly darker Smoking Kills.

4. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

This is a wonderful story of octogenarian neighbours Hortensia and Marion, living in a suburb in Cape Town, South Africa. They’ve both had successful lives, run their own businesses and are on the same neighbourhood committee, but their similarities act as a reason to divide them rather than support each other. One day an unforeseen event forces the women together. Could this long-held mutual loathing transform into friendship?  Is it really possible to love thy neighbour? Easier said than done.

It’s a story that reminds me a little of A Man Called Ove, except I didn’t like Ove and wouldn’t put that book on my list, but this one definitely, these two are far more interesting to hang out with than Ove ever was! And this novel was nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017, a worthy contender in my opinion.

5. The Italian Chapel by Philip Paris

Inspired by a true story, this is a tale of Italian prisoners of war, transported from the North African desert to the freezing cold of Orkney, (an archipelago off the northeastern coast of Scotland), at the beginning of winter 1942.

In a testament to the wonders of the human spirit, despite insufferable conditions they build a chapel, one of the most enduring icons of hope and peace to come out of WWII.

The novel introduces us to key characters and imagines them achieving this incredible feat. It is a story of optimism, resourcefulness and the things men do to keep their spirits up when the circumstances are against them. An easy, light read, moving without being overly sentimental, knowing this wonderful refuge still exists today makes it all the more special.

Philip Paris has also written a non-fiction account of the true story behind the chapel. Orkney’s Italian Chapel: The True Story of an Icon. In my review he wrote a comment, saying that he and his wife had returned for the 70th anniversary of the chapel’s completion and met up with several family members of the key artists who built the chapel, as well as 94 year old Gino Caprara, an ex Orkney POW who travelled from Italy for the event. There were many tears shed during those few days together.

Further Reading Lists

Top Five on MyTBR

Top Five Spiritual Well-Being Reads

Top Five Nature Inspired Reads

Top Five Nature Inspired Reads

Nature Inspiration

Welcome back to my Reading Lists for Total Confinement. Today I’m sharing my Top Five Nature Inspired reads.

It’s not winter, however we are in period of hibernation and just as bees pollinate flowers, somehow we humans are spreading a virus around the world.

Without pollination, plants cannot create seeds. For now, it’s difficult to see what good will bloom from Covid-19 but lets hope something positive will come from what we learn in solitude and while locked in lets hope the bees can get on and do their job out there.

When it’s too cold to be out in nature or when I feel like a break from the books I’ve been reading, I love to read compelling nature essays or stories inspired by nature. A form of quiet escapism, they are a unique appreciation of nature.

The choices below are a mix of essays, fiction, memoir and poetry. If you like the sound of a book, click on the title to read my review.

Top Five Nature Inspired Reads

1. The Bees by Lalline Paul

I’m starting with a novel, because this was an incredible feat of the imagination as well as being a compelling read. It’s the story of The Hive narrated by Flora 717, a worker bee. Flora is a lowly sanitation bee and we meet her as she is becoming aware of her surroundings and the hierarchy within which she lives.

Not only was the author inspired by bees, but she models the fictional landscape of The Hive on a Bronze Age Minoan Palace. Stunning, I was completely bowled over by this story. A thrilling read!

2. Under The Sea Wind by Rachel Carson
Many know Rachel Carson for her groundbreaking work Silent Spring that launched the environmental movement and brought about revolutionary changes in laws governing air, land and water use.

But Carson’s own personal favourite and a book I absolutely loved was her debut Under the Sea-Wind. I’d read a few excellent creative non-fiction nature titles and was wondering whether anyone had written in a similar lyrical way about the sea. And here it is, the masterpiece, what a unique and incredible insight she gives of it.

Divided into three parts,  it’s written from the perspective of three creatures she knew well (she was a zoologist), Part One is the life of the seashore, seen through the eyes of a sanderling she names Silverbar; in Part Two we experience the ocean with Scomber the mackerel, and Part Three takes us into the deep dark, fathoms, following Anguilla the eel out of a river into the Sargasso Sea. Absolutely inspired, informative, stunning.

3. The Turquoise Ledge Leslie Marmon Silko

I had to include this here even though I’m doing a separate list about Memoirs, because it was such a fascinating read and introduction to the Arizona desert and its wildlife. The way Silko talks about the rattlesnakes that inhabit her property will almost convince you that under similar circumstances we too might live harmoniously with these creatures!

Alongside the critters, she recalls ancestral Laguna stories of her childhood, talks of Star Beings, collects turquoise rocks in the arroyo (dry creek bed) and shares her fascination with the Nahua people, their language and Tlaloc, the Nahua God of Rain to whom she occasionally chants her own rain prayer.

I discovered it the same way I found Under the Sea-Wind, this time I was looking for a creative non-fiction title set in the desert near Tuscon; I found this stunning memoir and snapped it up straight away.

Silko too is an author many know for her bestselling novel Ceremony, I enjoyed Gardens in the Dunes and the slim collections of letters with poet James Wright The Delicacy & Strength of Lace. Yes, I was hooked and read whatever I could get my hands on after reading her inspired memoir. Fortunately I still have Storyteller and Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit on my shelf.

4. When Women Were Birds, Fifty Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

Terry Tempest Williams wrote Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place in 1991 about a personal loss and the dangers confronting Great Salt Lake. Twenty years later, now 54 years old, she was the age her mother attained when she departed this world and thus reflects anew on life, as a woman, a conservationist and activist in another arresting memoir.

Referring to ancient crow etchings of women in China that were read by women she thinks of her own bird marking, a scar above the eye made by a falcon on a river trip. She speaks of the Mormon tradition of keeping journals, of a gift her mother left her, the collection of carefully preserved, beautiful cloth bound journals and the shock of what she finds within their pages. This is one you’ll want to slow read, to ponder, cherish, and even re-read.

5. A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

And to finish a short collection of poetry from Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver who passed away in January 2019. Her poetry oscillates between the natural world and worldly experiences and in this collection she goes down to the shore, dances for joy, falls downs the stairs of the Golden Temple on a trip to India and in my favourite of the collection lets us know, as if she too has been told to self-isolate, that she has accepted her fate.

I HAVE DECIDED

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully in
the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacation.

Of course, at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.

Are you following me?

Do you have a favourite nature-inspired read to share?

Further Reading Lists Featured

My Top 5 TBR

My Top 5 Spiritual Well-Being

Top Five Spiritual Well-Being Books

Well-Being Inspiration

Welcome to today’s new list, my top five spiritual well-being reads . This is Day 2 in my series of Reading Lists for this period of total confinement. Yesterday I shared the Top 5 Reads on My TBR.

There is a tab above with links to more authors and books in this category and a short intro to the author and what they specialise in.

Many of my suggestions are Hay House authors. Hay House is a publishing company founded in 1984 by Louise Hay when she was 58 years old. In the 1970’s she wrote a pamphlet known as ‘Heal Your Body’ which later became the bestselling book ‘You Can Heal Your Life’.

I have an affinity for Hay House authors as I often listen to their free radio HayHouseRadio.com when I’m cooking dinner. Many authors have a weekly radio show where they interview interesting people and invite callers to ask questions. Ordinary and extraordinary life questions that receive spiritually enlightened answers from what I perceive as pretty grounded, high functioning empathetic teachers, with open-minded perspectives on the Divine.

Top Five Spiritual Well-Being Books

1. Raise Your Vibration by Kyle Gray

I came across Kyle Gray thanks to Christiane Northrup, a protégé of Louise Hay, she invited him to present at an I Can Do It event (gatherings of kindred souls to share similar experiences, expand awareness and reach higher levels of consciousness) when he was 22-years-old. It’s so heart-warming to see a young man inspiring so many in such a grounded, reassuring and confident way.

Raise Your Vibration is the perfect bedside read and daily practice. Vibration is a similar term to energy, we all vibrate energetically at a particular frequency. The lower the frequency, the denser your energy, and the heavier your problems seem. The higher the frequency of your energy or vibration, the lighter you feel in your physical, emotional, and mental bodies. We experience greater personal power, clarity, peace, love, and joy. You have little, if any, discomfort or pain in your physical body, and your emotions are easily dealt with.

Kyle refers to his practices as vibes. So raising our vibe is good. It’s not necessary to read more than one per day and we benefit more by doing this as often the day will show us something that relates to what we’ve read. I loved this book because it opens us up to serendipitous events and makes us more aware of them. It’s informative, uplifting and can be life changing.

2. Making Life Easy: A Simple Guide to a Divinely Inspired Life by Christiane Northrup

Christiane Northrup is great. A woman with a foot in both camps, a medical doctor, OB/GYN physician who specialises in women’s wellness and has published lots of health related books (with terribly unappealing covers) I’ve never read on menopause, physical and emotional health & healing, ageing, mother-daughter genetic health legacies and more.

I had heard her often on the radio but only began to read her after she wrote Making Life Easy, the book in which she “comes out of the spiritual closet” and shares many of the alternative, more spiritual practices that have guided her through the years.

3. The Four Insights – Wisdom, Power and Grace of the Earthkeepers by Alberto Villoldo

I came across Alberto via Colette Baron-Reid, they have worked together and produced a Mystical Shaman Oracle deck, which is a great way to learn about this ancient wisdom, Alberto writes wonderful books which really help deepen one’s knowledge. A medical anthropologist who thought he knew a lot (PhD’s etc), he spent years investigated the effects of energy healing on blood and brain chemistry and spent years in the company of shamans, a humbling experience that changed the course of his life and views. He writes with simplicity and gives examples from his own experience as well as those of clients.

The Four Insights is an excellent introduction to this ancient wisdom and energy medicine, explaining the four levels of perception with suggestions as to how we can how we can alter our own reality, by shifting perception into a higher realm. It is a pre-requisite to Shaman Healer Sage, How to Heal Yourself and Others with the Energy Medicine of The Americas

4. The Grief Recovery Handbook, The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, & Other Losses updated to include How Grief Recovery Addresses Trauma & PTSD by John W. James & Russell Friedman

I haven’t reviewed this book for obvious reasons (My Long Absence Explained), but I have to include it on the list as it is a real gem and totally resonated for me when I needed it. Ironically, I bought this for research and had it sitting unread on my shelf, when the day arrived that I needed and was thoroughly comforted by it.

“Recovery from loss is achieved by a series of small and correct choices made by the griever. This book takes on the the specific challenge of reeducating anyone who has a genuine desire to discover and complete the emotional pain caused by loss.”

5. Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elisabeth Gilbert – I include this because I believe creativity is an essential key to unlocking or releasing suffering. Once we understand it, we find that creativity lies at the centre of our calling or purpose in life. I don’t mean the often quoted traditional form that some take to mean art, that’s one form, not do I mean a career. I mean that thing within us that yearns for expression, the thing that we like to do that makes us feel good. That keeps us sane.

“Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents.

It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).”

Tell me, do you have a favourite read for your spiritual well-being? Share it with us, I’m always looking for inspiration!

Further Reading Lists in the Series for Total Confinement

Top 5 on My TBR

Top 5 Nature Inspired Reads

A Long Absence, I Am Dust by Louise Beech

I don’t know why, but today something nudged me to write a few words about a book I have just finished reading. The first time I have had anything noteworthy to say about a work of fiction since August 2019.

I also have a couple of reviews I wrote in August, that I hadn’t posted yet, part of Women in Translation month that I will share belatedly. All coming soon…

It was the debut novel of Iranian author Shokoofeh Azar, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree. It won’t be for everyone, as it’s written in a lyrical magical realist style, narrated by the spirit of a thirteen year old girl whose family flees Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.

Europa Editions, one of my favourite publishers, describes it in this way:

From the pen of one of Iran’s rising literary stars, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is a story about the unbreakable connection between the living and the dead, and about the way a nation’s shared trauma shapes its national and personal narratives.

It speaks of the power of imagination when confronted with cruelty, and of our human need to make sense of the world through the ritual of storytelling itself.

That power of imagination and the use of storytelling to express something in another form, whether its verbal, written or visual, to make sense of how someone views the world around them was something very close to my heart, almost overwhelming, as I too struggle to make sense of it, yet appreciate the gift.

Allia Jen

I haven’t published anything here nor felt like reading or even thinking about storytelling, because in mid August my 17-year-old daughter Allia Jen passed away suddenly, without warning. And as you might imagine, something like that, changes something in us.

Though she was very young, she had already lived an extraordinary life, with both significant challenges and immense joys. And though it is little recompense, we have a bulging suitcase of her drawings and artwork, which she worked on and created prolifically – literally – as if there were no tomorrow. Though she didn’t quite make it to her 18th birthday and the independence she was so looking forward to, I am somehow comforted by the knowledge that in the belief system of her paternal culture, she is considered a Bird of Paradise, granted direct passage into Paradise.

I can’t write about reading without first acknowledging this personal loss, as something new begins to blossom and I  begin writing again. I am working on a new project I hope to finish this year and I have the intention to visit here from time to time, sharing what I’m reading, and if not here, at the very least on Goodreads.

I Am Dust

In the first of so many I still owe thank you’s to, I would like to say a heart-felt public thank you to a woman who makes magic with words, author Louise Beech, whom I first connected with while spending 10 days in Timone hospital with Allia as she recovered from a successful but distressing operation to correct a curvature of the spine.

I was reading Louise’s incredible, unforgettable debut novel How To Be Brave  inspired by her journey with her daughter and a Type 1 diabetic diagnosis (something we shared as mothers). We have stayed in touch ever since and she has written many more excellent, unputdownable novels.

Her latest novel, which I urge you all to read and share, is out now as an e-book but due for printed publication on 16 April 2020. Set in a haunted theatre I Am Dust begins with an amazing poem written by Louise’s daughter Katy and the following generous, kind and much appreciated dedication:

This is dedicated to the people

who pick up the glitter.

And to a girl who was glitter: Allia

Jen Yousef, or simply Jen.

I’ll now have to wait until after

the dust settles

to finally meet you.

I leave you with a few of my favourite pictures Allia drew, all of which are semi-self portraits and encapsulate something of her essence. She is in a good place now and has reversed our roles, I feel her presence around me constantly and will always be inspired by what she taught me in her short life.

I guess she’s telling me to get on with some of the things I’ve been neglecting, just as she would have done, by awakening the inspiration to want to share again.

Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Claire

Click here to purchase a copy of Louise Beech’s I Am Dust via Book Depository