Teenager Sally has just run away from a clinic where she to be treated for anorexia. She’s furious with everything and everyone, and wants to be left in peace. Liss is in her forties, living alone on a large farm that she runs single-handedly. She has little contact with the outside world, and no need for other people. From their first meeting, Sally realises that Liss isn’t like other adults; she expects nothing of Sally and simply accepts who she is, offering her a bed for the night with no questions asked. That night becomes weeks and then months, as an unlikely friendship develops and these two damaged women slowly open up – connecting to each other, reconnecting with themselves, and facing the darkness in their pasts through their shared work on the land…
You know that special moment when you encounter a book that completely cocoons you in its web, with you never wanting to leave? Tasting Sunlight is quite simply one of those books, making it all the harder to construct any rational review that can totally convey the inherent beauty and pleasure of becoming lost in this powerful and utterly mesmeric story. Ewald Arenz’s writing is absolutely exquisite and wonderfully translated by Rachel Ward, leading me to pause throughout and re-read certain passages, which is something I very rarely do, and only further reinforced my perception of this book as one to savour and fully appreciate as something really rather special indeed…
Focussing on the tentative understanding that grows between two women separated by age and experience, with more than one flash point along the way, and moments of captivating raw emotion. I was quite simply enthralled by this book, recognising in both characters, their struggle to gain confidence and carve out a place for themselves in the world away from the judgement and false sympathy of others, To see them gain strength from their individual experiences, and striving not to be overwhelmed by the darker aspects of their lives was a harsh journey but truly satisfying. With very few exceptions, I have rarely encountered a male author who seems so effortlessly to characterise women so realistically, attuned so closely to the moments of doubt and self questioning that these women experience, with a flawless attention to the minutiae of their lives and experience, that are gradually revealed so sublimely as the story unfolds.
I emerged from this book truly feeling that I knew both of these characters intimately, both through their interactions with each other and others, but also with the sharp perspective we gain of both through their individual critiques of their own flaws and weaknesses- sometimes misguided, sometimes painfully truthful. There are moments of extreme pathos, balanced beautifully with glimmers of unexpected humour, all tethered to, and heightened by Arenz’s utterly sympathetic and realistic depiction of the natural world surrounding these two lost souls.
Having read a lot of fiction set within rural communities, Arenz captures perfectly the insular closed world that Liss resides in, and that Sally has to navigate and begin to understand as an incomer. His rendering of the countryside and the seasons that dictate Liss’ rural life is intoxicating, focussing sometimes on the smallest details of smell, sight and touch. He writes so that we too can imagine the heady aromas of the pear orchards, the incessant work and buzz of the beehives, the physical strength of manual tasks like potato harvesting, and most importantly to recognise Liss’ own symbiotic relationship with the land, and Sally’s growing appreciation and understanding of this environment. Aside from the obvious trauma lurking behind Liss’ character, we see her at her strongest when going about her daily tasks, and turning educator to impart some of this knowledge to Sally too. Sally in turn, seems to grow and prosper from this new lease of life, and the taste of freedom it offers to her.
It’s always so much more difficult to review a book that has so totally consumed you, and brought such an intense and satisfying reading experience as Tasting Sunlight has. This book encapsulates what I love about reading, where I have experienced characters with completely different lives to my own, but individual aspects of their lives resonated strongly with me, as I’m sure they will with other readers. I finished the book feeling that they had both had me rooting for them throughout, and that their story of self discovery and acceptance of themselves, and each other, would continue to develop beyond the final pages. A truly sublime novel, and one that I can confidently say will roll around in the back of your mind well after finishing it. Highly recommended.
EWALD ARENZ is a German best selling author of a wide range of novels, short stories, musicals, and plays. He has been awarded various national and international prizes for literature; among them the Bavarian Prize for Literature or the Naples Literary Award. His novels “Tasting Sunlight” and “The Grand Summer” have sold over half a million copies in the German edition and stayed within the first ten on the SPIEGEL bestseller list for more than two years. In England he publishes with Orenda Books. He has three children, is a cat-lover and lives in Franconia near Nuremberg.
RACHEL WARD is a freelance translator of literary and creative texts from German and French to English. Having always been an avid reader and enjoyed word games and puzzles, she discovered a flair for languages at school and went on to study modern languages at the University of East Anglia. She spent the third year working as a language assistant at two grammar schools in Saaebrücken, Germany. During her final year, she realised that she wanted to put these skills and passions to use professionally and applied for UEA’s MA in Literary Translation, which she completed in 2002. Her published translations include Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang and Red Rage by Brigitte Blobel, and she is a Member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. Follow Rachel on Twitter @FwdTranslations, on her blog http://www.adiscounttickettoeverywhere.wordpress.com and on her website http://www.forwardtranslations.co.uk
(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)
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