Yesterday I posted my review of Leonora Meriel’s wonderful book The Woman Behind the Waterfall. Today we have a guest post from Leonora herself and a giveaway of 5 signed copies of the book! Details of the giveaway can be seen at the end of this post.
Heartbreak and redemption in the beauty of a Ukrainian village
For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river. All that changes when, one morning, she sees her mother crying. As she tries to find out why, she is drawn on an extraordinary journey into the secrets of her family, and her mother’s fateful choices.
Can Angela lead her mother back to happiness before her innocence is destroyed by the shadows of a dark past?
Beautiful, poetic and richly sensory, this is a tale that will haunt and lift its readers.
To me, the world is full of magic.
Some of it is right in front of our noses – out there in the street; in the park; in the passers-by; in a gesture; a cloud; a falling leaf.
Some of it is right here inside our heads – those worlds churning in our minds that lead us to write, to paint, to play games, to dance.
And some of it is in our dreams – the flying, the dark magic of nightmares, the child’s viewpoint, the unnamable joy.
For me – all this magic comes from one place – the universal mind; and no one has expressed it better for me than C.J. Jung with his “collective unconscious”. In my imagination, I picture it as a great, chaotic sea, with archetypes, dreams, memories, all of the emotions and feelings and experiences of the world poured into it. And from this great churning sea, we build our individual worlds: the society we choose as our social architecture; the belief systems we practice; the relationship models we create and re-create over the generations.
But all these models – all these choices – are just one variation. And in my imagination, the variety is endless. Worlds, belief systems, societies, usage of that legendary 95% brain power. Everything could be different! And art is the place where we explore that – the alternative worlds, the alternative expressions of this world, the subconscious manifested into our lives, the dreams become real.
Literary Fiction, Magic Realism
Publishing Date: October 1, 2016
Page count: hardback, 234 pages, paperback: 262 pages
To me, as I step out of the house each day, I see the pavement, the houses, the sky, the trees in season, the cars, the relationships and their dramas. And yet, I feel so aware that this is just a fraction of what is happening. My very perception is limited by what I expect to see. Someone expecting to see all bad things would see the darkness in the street. A resilient optimist would see the flickers of smiles and touched hands; colours, nature – this is all conditioned from our expectations.
And so, when I write fiction, I try to present a wider world, with a little of that brimming magic which, to me, is always there. I try to express the subconscious spilling out the way it does; the dreams mixing with the waking days; the heartbreak which resounds back through generations of archetypal heartbreaks in the universal mind.
In “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” I contrast two different worlds. Lyuda, a young, depressed mother, lives in her own darkness – she sees the world around her and she remembers her mistakes and she can’t see any happiness at all. She drinks Ukrainian homebrew – samohon – to dull the pain.
Her seven year old daughter, Angela, is on the border where her child’s imagination is about to move into a singular understanding of the world. But for the time in the book, she exists in a place where everything flows into everything else – all creation is one – and she is a natural part of it. Angela sees a bird and feels its spirit, and then she is flying in the bird:
Sometimes I prefer to sit in the tree above. A bird. A leaf. A single star from a cluster of lilac. I catch a thread of song across the garden and release myself into it, shift the girl into a quiet background and enter the breath of music which carries me into the bird.
And for a moment I am that music, shimmering against the air, and then I am creating the music. It is I who am singing. I am within the spirit of the bird. And I look around me at the springtime garden and I know why I am singing. The insistent green that is everywhere! The birds that are returning to familiar gardens! The flowers exploding into bloom with every new instant of sunshine!
Angela is also in tune with her subconscious. She is open to the archetypes and to the whispers of the women who make up her generations. Her soul and her imagination are open to guidance:
“I lie on the bottom of the river, which is clear like a sheet of glass. Below me, pale spirits from that other river—the river below this river—rise up and bring me flowers. Women in ragged white with long trailing hair made from the riverbed strands. I hold out my hands.
Take them, my Nightspirit says.
I take the flowers and the women sink back into the depths.
The riverbed clouds over into silt and weeds and stones.
I rise to the surface.”
The symbolism of the river and the water represents the flow of time, and the continuation of the experience of life. All our experiences – through each of our lifetimes and bodies – represent another drop in the eternal flow of life; just as all living things are connected to the flow of everything else – a wonderful concept from the ancient spiritual texts, now proven by the quantum scientists (yes – I read several quantum physics books as research for “The Woman Behind the Waterfall”).
Angela expresses her natural, childlike curiosity when she enters the spirits of different living things: birds, flowers, the river, the air. However, towards the end of the book, she uses it to also express her powerful emotions. When she believes that her mother is going to kill herself, Angela transforms into a storm, and lashes rain over the village, destroying, screaming, furious and wild:
“I draw the clouds to me, seeking the water from the sky and keeping it close; gathering the thoughts into form, one after another, cloud upon cloud, closer and closer into the darkest place. And I call to the sky that there is no need here for light, and the sky closes as I cover it with my anger, and when at last everything is dark and everything is brought into a tight, furious centre, then I whisper to the clouds around me, “It is time,” and I release a scream into the universe and the clouds let out a deafening roll of thunder that goes on and on and on, and lightning flashes down repeatedly onto the garden and the village and the river and over everything that I know, and when the thunder and my scream are finished, then I pull my arms from around my chest and I hold them out and I let the rains pour down onto the earth.”
The main theme of “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” is the search for happiness, and the mother, Lyuda’s, path from her closed, three-dimensional world, out into Angela’s wonderful, magical, natural, joyful multidimensional world. Angela fights hard to show her mother how to enter this place:
I hear the birds singing in the lilac tree nearby and I close my eyes on this late spring morning and my hand is in Mama’s hand and I feel something light flowing from her hand to mine and I think, what if she could?
I whisper to her to close her eyes and I know when she has closed them because I feel another rush of lightness from her hand to mine and I whisper again—“Mama, fly!”—and suddenly Mama and I are great white storks flying through the clear blue air and the wind is rushing cold and bright against us and against our feathers, and we are pushing the air down with powerful wide strokes and Mama’s wide, strong wings are beating next to mine and my smaller wings are beating down, down beside her and I feel her powerful love protecting me with each beat, beat, beat. We are flying over the rooftops of our village—some thatched, some red-tiled—with the long strips of gardens trailing out from tiny houses and the spring-lit trees below us and I can feel Mama’s joy absorbing the completeness of every movement, every barb of every feather creating each stroke of her wings and carrying her beside me through this bright, rushing air. The lightness, the power, the wind. We fly and fly towards a huge nest at the top of a tree and I feel a pull towards it and Mama comes to land in a cave of twigs and I land behind her and she turns and wraps her wide wings around me, little bird disappearing into softness.
It is only as Lyuda accepts the magic around her into her life, that she begins to feel the possibility of happiness.
The difference between the closed, physical world that Lyuda inhabits, and the open, magical world that Angela does, is stark in “The Woman Behind the Waterfall.” But this is how most people live. They believe in one version of the world, and close out the brimming creative magic which is all around. The world of dreams. The world of the subconscious. The world of the 95% brain. The world that every other person perceives. The unlimited possibilities.
It is the job of writers and artists and musicians and the creative industries to bring these other worlds to those ready to hear them. Music that takes you on an ethereal journey; paintings by Chagall and Magritte which speak directly to your subconscious and are scooped out of the universal mind. Writings of novelists such as García Márquez and Isabel Allende.
These worlds are all around us. Our only job is to open up to them – and our own magical realities will become so much richer.
Leonora Meriel is the author of “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” (published October 2016, Granite Cloud), called “an intoxicating world” by Kirkus Reviews; “a timeless and universal novel” by Goodreads reviewers, “a strange and beautiful novel” by writer Esther Freud. Her upcoming novel “The Unity Game” will be published in May 2017.
“Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating worlds” – Kirkus Reviews
“A strange and beautiful novel” – Esther Freud, author of Hideous Kinky, Peerless Flats, Mr Mac and Me
“A literary work of art” – Fiona Adams, Richmond Magazine
“Timeless and universal novel” – Goodreads & Amazon reviewer
“A beautiful, thought-provoking exploration of family ties” – MP, Amazon reviewer
Leonora Meriel has very kindly offered to give away a signed copy of The Woman Behind the Waterfall (usually $11.99-$16.99 unsigned!) to 5 lucky Examining the Odd readers! The winners will be chosen at random and no purchase is required to enter.
The competition will open with the publishing of this post and will be closed to entries at midday GMT on Sunday 19th March 2017. To enter, you simply need to comment on this blog post. For legal reasons, all entrants must be aged 18 or over, and you cannot enter if you live in Canada, sorry.
Once the deadline has passed, I will use random.org to choose the 5 winners. Winners will be notified within three working days of the deadline and will be contacted via whatever means possible based on their comment/profile. Their details will then be passed on to Leonora who will personally send the books to each winner. Good luck!
I'm interested in all things odd, strange and unusual.
I also work over at strangebooks.com and I'm an artist and teacher.