My year in books

Another crazy year has passed, a rather good one as far as reading is concerned. I gave up my presence on social media platforms and my off-the-radar tactics is really paying off. Here’s some of what I’ve read recently and most of which I wholeheartedly recommend. The list of new titles is steadily growing and reviews will follow. That’s the plan!

Zouleikha ouvre les yeux

Gouzel Iakhina: 
Zouleikha ouvre les yeux
Libretto 2015. 
Original title: Zouleykha otkryvaet glaza
translated into French by Maud Mabillard.

When you have given birth to four children who all died in childbirth and when you share the household with your husband’s old mother who keeps insulting you whenever she opens her mouth, or when you need to hide your crop in fear of the regime who steals everything from you, or when your husband is shot dead in front of your eyes and you are deported to Siberia, you have then entered the world of Zouleihka. It’s the early days of the Soviet campaign of dekulakization in the beginning of 1930’s USSR, when millions of peasants lost their farmlands and were executed or deported. This is where the story of Zuleikha’s begins in Kazan, in a convoy of deportees onward across the Ural Mountains and further east. What a promising start! 

My baby steps in the wonderful world of DNA

Bat spotting again… this particular individual is my Christmas greeting to family and friends. A Very Merry Christmas to you too! 

I took a Y-DNA test and found out about my ancestry. My haplogroup is represented in Western Siberia and Finland but I was surprised to see red dots also in Turkey and in the Caucasus. The dots on the map represent the earliest known forefathers of other people who took the test and with whom I share snippets of DNA. Perhaps it’s time to plan a haplo tour to Kazan? Or follow a trail down to the Black Sea and to the medieval slave markets of Feodosia? In those days it was common to snatch people and either bargain for their release or sell them as slaves. That happened also on the shores of the Baltic.

I researched my grandmother’s lineage and was able to connect with the Geni family tree. Her side of the family stayed in the same region in Ostrobothnia for several centuries and their family names were tied to farms and places. With Geni, suddenly I have over one thousand ancestors all the way back to my 16th great grandfathers, who were born around 1450.

I remember my great grandmother very well. At the time she was already very old and would just sit quietly and wrap herself in that secret historicity of hers. Her grandfather had been a sniper who died in mysterious circumstances in St. Petersburg after 1889. Who was he? Why was he there? I am now very keen on finding out more about single stories among those one thousand relatives.

In the coming year, be prepared, my dear reader, to more stories about my ancestry and about writing in general, as I am in the middle of writing a novel. I might also babble something about fictional autobiography, the genre that intrigued me already in the 90’s when I was working on my master’s degree in Marseille. Now it’s timely again, with all the potential of my going back in time and finding myself in the footsteps of my unknown father and his forefathers somewhere in the Crimea or Siberia. Add to that some of the more usual glimpses of my life between the Senegal river and the Atlantic Ocean and voilà: welcome a brand-new year 2022. 

Miss Helen In The Bath

Johanna and me on our doorsteps. I still remember those shoes, my toes literally grew through them.

For a very short time Johanna was my best friend. She was a Jewish girl, we were between seven and eight years old at the time when I did not really understand what Jewish even meant. Her family lived very close and they had a piano. Her grandmother could play it and sing, I was fascinated by her voice and her long silver grey hair.

We would sing songs whenever we met. Johanna taught me one of those self-boasting provincial songs from her family’s province and my classmates laughed at me mockingly, when I suggested we sing that song together during our music class. 

When it was time to pick up a song for the exam to get a grade, I chose “I Saw Miss Helen In The Bath” by M. A. Numminen. My teacher, who was from the Karelian region, laughed very loudly until she was in tears, and I got a good mark.

Then suddenly Johanna and her family moved out of town and I lost trace of her for good. I wonder where she is now and what songs she might be singing.

Hands up!

From what I remember, our house was always full of people who would often sit in our only bedroom and play records and drink, or play cards and drink. Happy youth! I passed out once when I had emptied, unnoticed, a large glass of Long Drink, a local gin. 

Among these people there was also K who always wore a leather jacket and a hat. He had guns too. He’s in one of the photos with his hands up. I remember those guns, they were heavy.