Thursday, 7 June 2007

Reading for early summer weather

Book discussion groups combine the pleasures of reading, discussing books and getting to know others in a relaxed setting. The groups are famously long-running: I’ve belonged to one English-language group since shortly after I arrived in Montreal in 1968, and to a French one since it was formed in 1980. Over the years we’ve enjoyed hundreds of books and shared all the dramas of our lives.

Tonight the French group will meet to discuss a book which brilliantly evokes one of the 20th century’s watershed summers: 1939. Called in the French translation Une Saison à Venise, the short novel by the Polish writer Wlodozimierz Odojewski begins with a disappointed nine year old, Marek, who had been promised a trip to Venice during summer holidays. When his father is mobilized, he and his mother retreat to the family’s country place where he slowly realizes what looming war means. Odojewski (translated by Agnès Wsniewski and Charles Zeremba) gives us lovely visions of a landscape inhabited by a cast of eccentric aunts: one runs naked every morning in the shoulder high grass of the fields.

The book would make good companion reading to one of the best WW II stories around, Dobryd, by Canadian writer Ann Charney. Odojewski’s book appears not to be available yet in English but if you haven’t read Charney’s book you are missing a real treat.

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