A Form of Literary Alchemy That Resurrects the Past

Wioletta Greg Monika Olek SWALLOWING MERCURY By Wioletta Greg Translated by Eliza Marciniak 146 pp. Transit Books. Paper, $15.95. For those writers desiring to summon a lost past, especially as a way to re-enter childhood memory, the most pressing challenge is almost always one of resurrection: how to make what has already happened, that which can never happen again, feel as if it were still happening. In her entrancing fiction debut, “Swallowing Mercury,” the poet Wioletta Greg achieves a form of literary alchemy that mesmerizes for its ability to situate us inside a personal landscape where both the eternal past and the unfolding present feel as if they can exist simultaneously. Although set in a fictional village in rural Poland in the 1970s and 1980s, Greg’s book — which was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and elegantly translated by Eliza Marciniak — very clearly lays its claim to the territory of autobiography, as we progress through a series of tightly drawn scenes that suggest with flip-book-like economy the narrator’s progression from birth to adolescence. And yet it expands the potential of the personal by also asserting that this is a memoir of place, as Greg describes in […]

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