Guđmundur Andri Thorsson’s And the Wind Sees All is the third in Peirene’s ‘Home in Exile’ series. I reviewed Soviet Milk here earlier in the year but chickened out of Shadows on the Tundra, billed as Lithuanian survival literature. I’m sure it’s very good, I’ve yet to read anything published by Peirene that isn’t, but I fancied something a little more cheerful. And the Wind Sees All takes place over the brief bicycle ride that Kata takes to Valeyri’s village hall in preparation for the evening’s concert, taking in the stories of the villagers who catch sight of her out of the corner of their eyes.
Today is Midsummer’s Day and Kata is determined the concert will be a success. Mounting her bike in her blue polka-dot dress, she remembers the man who loved her and who she loved. Each of the villagers she passes is preoccupied: the rich man, friendly enough, who keeps himself to himself remembers the wife he neglected; the village poet feels a poem on the tip of his pen which won’t quite come; a woman remembers the rock star father of her child and the perfect guitar solo he played for her while her husband thinks about seabirds; another recounts a disturbing dream to her host, the village historian whose wife brings in the money. There are a multitude of secrets kept in Valeyri, many regrets revisited, loneliness endured and some quiet happiness, not to mention gossip, enjoyed.
The villagers’ reveries, memories and reflections read almost like a chain of closely intertwined short stories through which Kata flits on her bike. Their overlapping and interlinked histories are all relayed in a mere two-minute journey, each of them quietly pulling the reader into their lives. There’s humour, too – some of it gentle, some of it dark. Thorsson’s writing is often strikingly beautiful – poetic yet understated, the repetition of phrases adding a rhythm and musicality. There are dozens of quotes I could have pulled out but here are some of my favourites:
The mist. It comes in off the sea and slides along the spit. Every summer’s day, it creeps up the fiord as evening approaches, noses around the slopes and the foothills and slips into the village, where it curls around the boats in the harbour and licks the corners of the houses, before lifting itself
He felt the sun hot on his temples, intrusive as an overfriendly relation
She hears the solo in her head, enters it, stays there for a moment engulfed in the bright glow of its magnetic chaos, soars… She asks Guđjón if he would like more coffee
All of this is expertly translated by Björg Árnadóttir and Andrew Cauthery. The idea of a joint translation fascinates me. I can’t imagine how they set about it but the result is a rather lovely piece of writing.
Which leads me to the launch of the Peirene Stevns Translation Prize. Lest you be thinking ‘yet another prize’, this one’s different. It’s to be awarded to a previously unpublished translator who will get a grant of £3,500 plus a residency in which to translate a novel to be published by Peirene in 2020. Details are here. I like the sound of a prize which aims to foster translating talent, So often translators are overlooked but without them us monolinguals wouldn’t be able to read nearly as widely as we can.