A Form of Literary Alchemy That Resurrects the Past

Wioletta Greg Monika Olek SWALLOWING MERCURY Wioletta Greg Translated Eliza Marciniak 146 pp. Transit . Paper, $15.. For those writers desiring to summon a lost past, especially as a way to re-enter childhood memory, the most pressing challenge almost always one of resurrection: how to make what has already happened, that never happen , feel as if it were 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 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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