One of my favourite British publishers is Salt Publishing (@SaltPublishing, @saltpublishing) based in Cromer (Norfolk) and London, founded in 1999 by poet Chris Hamilton-Emery (@chamiltonemery). I learnt about Salt in August 2016 when I reviewed their Man Booker longlisted novel The Many by Wyl Menmuir. You will find the publisher mentioned on my new page “Readers, Start Here” (do check it out).
I just read a recent Salt volume – How to Be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill (@naohamill)—a Welsh-born Manchester-based secondary school teacher who visits Kosovo each summer with the charity Manchester Aid. I picked up this book eagerly because Kosovo has been on my mind for quite a while. It is the only European country from where I am yet to get visitors/readers—very irritating for me! I’ve been wanting to reach out to Kosavan visual artists. I think I will surely find somebody and publish about them in the near future.
Anyway, for now, I really enjoyed Naomi Hamill’s book. It is a collection of linked vignettes that go by titles like “How to Be a Kosovan Bride”, “How to Have a Kosovan Dream”, “How to Want a Kosovan Baby”, “How to Have a Kosovan Argument”, etc. A new world opens up before the reader, one that weaves together Albanian folktale, dark experiences related to the 1999 war, the traditional values (honour, respectability) and contemporary habits (Google, Facebook, Skype) of the region.
Hamill starts off by focussing on the plight of women—what’s normally expected of them (cooking, cleaning), what they may sometimes dream of (university studies, travels to London). The author then offers a thorough—and rather poetic—insight into the horrors of political conflict. Guns, tanks, flames abound. But acts of birth continue to defy the surrounding violence. The book, ultimately, was to me a hymn to the human will—its capacity to procreate, survive, just exist. Charming, invigorating writing.
THE BURNING CHURCHES –
Somewhere, just over the border, they torch your place of worship, your house of God, your point of spiritual reference.
Where the pointed spire stretched to the sky to reach to God, where the painter layered golden paint, where the prayers were said over your child and your grandfather and your own small body years ago. Now the gold comes from the flames and they overtake each section of the church, flickering and gorging and greedily eating up each metal cross, each delicate page of holy book, each wooden seat where petitions were made and remorse was felt and where families, squashed together, came to worship.
The heat begins to overwhelm the room and candles lie in hot melted puddles, boiling and simmering. The smell of incense overtakes as the church becomes a giant prayer to the world: let there be an end to this, let there be an end to this, let there be an end.
THE CHILDREN –
These children are beautiful. Eager to try, eager to learn, eager to be competitive, eager to shout, eager to be silent, eager to lead, eager to follow. Eager to love.
They play in a park at the edge of the town. The back edge, behind the dust and the bricks and the wood and the hospital. Behind the bartering, the buying, the selling, the boredom. Behind the learning, the numbing, the hoping, the heartbreak. Behind the romance and the infidelity and the daily lives and the dreams. Behind the frustrated, the excited, the bored, the lonely, the loved, the rememberers, the forgetters. Those here and now, those gone and past.
Who can say what’s happened on this land before this moment? We know some of it. We know vulgarity, we know occupation, we know fear, we know murder and not just from the outsiders. We know that everyone doesn’t love. We’ve learnt it, of course.
But now, just now, this piece of land is sacred. Prayed for by the believers, all kinds; hoped and wished for by the unbelievers: this piece of land is dedicated to good, to peace, to healing.
Other literary content related to the Balkan states on this blog: The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare, Death in the Museum of Modern Art by Alma Lazarevska and Houses by Borislav Pekić.