Body Kintsugi by Senka Marić (transl. Celia Hawkesworth): ‘You are life itself’

Cover image for Body Kintsugi by Senka MaricI’ve come to expect challenging books from Peirene Press although the last one I read, Marzhan, Mon Amour, turned out to be full of gentle humour and affection for the titular former East Berlin suburb. Senka Marić’s Body Kintsugi is a tough though ultimately optimistic read covering two years in which our unnamed protagonist undergoes radical treatment for cancer.

This is a story about the body. Its struggle to feel whole while reality shatters it into fragments.

Two months after her adulterous husband left, our forty-two-year-old protagonist finds a lump in her breast. Despite her doctors’ optimism, she’s sure it’s cancer. Her mother was diagnosed just two weeks after her detested father finally died. When her biopsy results confirm her supposition, her doctors continue to insist that the prognosis is good. The tumour is removed, then the news comes that another has been found but our protagonist remains convinced of her own strength, determined to protect her children, helped by her mother who has endured the same gruelling treatment herself. At each stage, from the reconstruction of the breasts she has loved to the revelation of a hospital infection, our protagonist remains stoic even joking about death with her anaesthetist, only occasionally entertaining its possibility. Throughout her ordeal, she remembers her childhood, calming the frightened little girl buried deep inside her.

You’re all eating pizza. You and the children. You’re drinking wine. You laugh. You think how beautiful they are. How beautiful they are! You don’t think about whether you’ll be able to watch them grow up. That thought is forbidden. Unnecessary. Damaging.  

Inevitably Marić’s novella is a harrowing read made all the more so by the knowledge that it draws on her own experience. Written in the second person using short plain sentences, the narrative feels intimate, powerfully expressing fear mixed with determination and self-belief laced with occasional humour. Threaded through are vivid snapshots from the protagonist’s childhood: the terrifyingly dark stairs to the family apartment, her drunken father’s violence, the comforting memory of her grandfather holding her foot as she drifted into sleep. As her body is ravaged, our protagonist holds fast to her belief that it is still beautiful, still a women’s body to be loved. Reading her compelling, moving novella felt like honouring its author and all she’s been through.

Peirene Press: London 9781908670731 168 pages Paperback

8 thoughts on “Body Kintsugi by Senka Marić (transl. Celia Hawkesworth): ‘You are life itself’”

  1. I’ve been toying with reading this one for Novellas in November, but am not sure if I am in the right frame of mind for it at the minute. It does sound incredibly powerful though.

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