Thursday, March 6, 2014

Without knowing what to expect

Helen Dunmore's novel The Siege arrived for me at the library today; I had no memory of placing a hold for it.  Don't you love it when that happens?  A book shows up, you don't know why, and you don't remember reading a review that convinced you to ask for it.  You know there was a reason you requested it, but you don't remember what it was, thus enabling what is for a book blogger the fairly unusual luxury of sinking into a book without knowing what to expect.

Today was an incredibly busy day - teaching, singing, and music editing - so I'm only about a page and a half into this book.  But I suspect it's going to be fantastic, because right there on the first page was this stunningly beautiful passage.  Be sure to read to the end, because it was the last sentence that made me catch my breath and close the book, because I wasn't ready to read on.  I have such hopes for this novel now.

Such a late spring, murky and doubtful, clinging to winter's skirts.  But this is how it happens here in Leningrad.  Under the trees around the Admiralty, lakes of spongy ice turned grey.  There was slush everywhere, and a raw, dirty wind off the Neva.  There was frost, a thaw, another frost.

Month after month ice-fishermen crouched by the holes they'd drilled in the ice, sitting out the winter, heads hunched into shoulders.  And then, just when it seemed as if summer would forget about Leningrad this year, everything changed.  Ice broke loose from the compacted mass around the Strelka.  Seagulls preened on the floes as the current swept them under bridges, and down the widening Neva to the sea.  The river ran full and fast, with a fresh wind tossing up waves so bright they stung your eyes.  Everything that was rigid was crumbling, breaking away, floating.

People leaned on the parapets of the Dvortsovy bridge, watching the ice-floes rock as they passed under the arch.  Their winter world was being destroyed.  They wanted spring, of course they wanted it, more than anything.  They longed for sun with every pore of their skin.

But spring hurts.  If spring can come, if things can be different, how can you bear what your existence has been?