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“Where words in the mouths of children are prodded, poked and subjected to ritual humiliation in the name of linguistic assimilation.”

Hamish MacDonald reviews Alindarka’s Children by Alhierd Bacharevič

Alhierd Bacharevic’s novel, set in native Belarus, is an odyssey into the nature of  language, a minority tongue which exists, tenuously, under the dominance of its more powerful neighbour. In Bacharevic’s original this is Russian and its supposed subordinate Belarusian, which under the adept hand of translators Dingley and Reid becomes the Lingo and the Leid, namely English and Scots. Meet Avi and Alicia, the estranged bairns of Alindarka who have been interned in a correction facility where a Camp Director supervises their treatment to become homogenized Russian speakers, where words in the mouths of children are prodded, poked and subjected to ritual humiliation in the name of linguistic assimilation. Escaping from the camp and reduced to a wild state Avi and Alicia’s world is revealed in dialogue between the siblings and in outpourings of consciousness, expressed in a tongue which is practically as feral as the bairns themselves. Through all of this a fascinating tale unfolds, overshadowed by The Doctor, an obsessive who believes language can be altered by surgical intervention. Petra Reid gives free rein to the Leid in this bold and playful translation, rattling along in vibrant patter and shifting between the narrative and snippets of poems from the Scots tradition, with the voices of Ramsay, Fergusson, Burns, Melville, Oliphant and MacDiarmid running through the tale, a continuing stream from which a contemporary but now vilified tongue draws its strength. Revealed in episodic shifts, the stories of characters are told while the children, equipped with only an old atlas, set off into the forest and the realms of sinister folk legend. The seamless transition between Dingley’s Lingo and Reid’s Leid means the tale moves invitingly along, giving here and there a window into Belarus’s turbulent modern history. The novel reveals the corrosive effects of the repression of language and identity, in an imagined world where separation of family, isolation and secrecy become the norms of survival. It is also a finely told and compelling tale.

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The Sunday Post on Aboard the Bulger

Our small press has just published a new book. In this article Maggie Ritchie interviews Head of Publishing Jean Findlay about her grandmother’s children books. This article celebrates our indie press’ new children publication: Aboard the Bulger, by Ann Scott Moncrieff. You can read the original article by clicking here. Head over to this page to read more about the book.

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Alhierd Bacharevič and the publication of Alindarka’s Children

This is going to be a rather long story.

It just so happens that I am writing these lines in a really beautiful autumn, in my home town, where peaceful people are being kidnapped, beaten, tortured and pursued, in the country called Belarus, which now finds itself ruled by a military-police junta. Yesterday evening, not far from the apartment where I live, you could hear guns and explosions. Beside me is a smartphone which I look at closely every five minutes. And I have no idea how to explain to anyone living outside Belarus what is going on and what we really feel. All of this in fact started many years ago. Then came 2020, the year when everything at last became obvious to everyone, in Belarus and in the whole world.

It was right at the beginning of 2007 that I left Belarus; life here had become dangerous and stifling. Then in 2013 I returned. Love brought me back. That’s how it was. Once back home I wrote the novel Alindarka’s Children. I well remember what gave me the necessary push to start work. I had read that somewhere in some little town a woman in the local education authority had advised the parents of a little child to “urgently seek the help of a speech therapist. Because your kid has a strong Belarusian accent. Get it cured, before it’s too late. Know what I mean? Normal kids speak proper, they speak Russian, got it?”

I was always well aware of what I had fled from and what I had come back to.

And that’s how the tale of Alicia and Avi came to be written. Belarusian speaking children who land up in a concentration camp, where there’s a kind Doctor who treats them for speaking the wrong language. A tale of Father, a Nationalist, who makes his daughter bear the responsibility for carrying out a Great Mission – preserving Belarusian. Father, who forbids Alicia to speak and think in Russian.

Father kidnaps his children from the Camp. The children flee and wander around the Huge, Mysterious Belarusian Forest…

Alindarka’s Children. A fairy tale for adults. A novel about the Demons that dwell within all Belarusians who know who they are. A tale that turned out to be complex and terrifying… And that’s how it reads today!

My thanks go to the ‘Halijafy’ publishing house and Źmicier Višnioǔ for producing such a handsome book; its appearance is enhanced by the cover that the artist Kaciaryna Dubovik designed. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the editor Siarhiej Šupa.

In 2015 the novel received the ‘Book of the Year’ prize, and came third in the Giedroyc Prize competition. Three years later the novel appeared in a French translation by Alena Lapatniova, published by Le ver à soie in Paris (thanks to Virginie Symaniec). Now it has come out in an English translation in Great Britain, or, to be exact, Great Scotland; the publisher is the Scotland Street Press of Edinburgh.

The book has Kaciaryna Dubovik’s original Belarusian cover, in a fine translation by Jim Dingley and Petra Reid. It has to be said, though, that this is not just a translation of a Belarusian text into English. Firstly, it is a translation into English and Scots (and that’s a language I’m sure you all know about). It’s a huge piece of work. Alindarka’s Children has become a literary castle; its walls, towers and corridors have been designed by Jim Dingley and Petra Reid with all the skills of true poets who know literature, It is a book in which all the allusions, both large and small, all the subtleties, the games and the linguistic apparatus have been considered, weighed up and transmitted in such a way that pernickety, demanding anglophone readers can make up their own minds, and for this I thank them.

The book will be officially launched at the end of this month, but it has already been printed (see the photographs), and the first review appeared on 23 September – in The Scotsman, no less. To be perfectly honest, I cannot imagine what anglophone readers will make of Alindarka’s Children. A sceptic will say “not very much”. What else could you expect? I have, after all, always written for the Chosen Ones.

And I also need to thank Tania Skarynkina. She it was, who, two years ago in Scotland, talked about my mad, unhappy ‘Children’. Tanya is a good talker. I’ve always known that.

The news of the book’s publication will have to suffice for today. I have not yet held the actual book in my hands. How long does it take for a book to travel from Scotland to Belarus.

On this occasion, perhaps, a whole lifetime.

Alhierd Bacharevic 23.09.20

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Wilson’s Ornithology and Burds in Scots

A Review on the Times Literary Supplement, March 13th

Name four eminent Scots who emigrated to America in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries and found fame. Andrew Carnegie, of course. Alexander Graham Bell and John Muir are two others. For a fourth, we propose Alexander Wilson, the ornithologist, poet and artist who left Paisley for Philadelphia in 1794 and never returned.

Wilson’s renown as a portrait painter of birds does not match that of John James Audubon, but his studies were made with skill and love for his subjects. Now Hamish MacDonald has brought together a selection in an attractive book published by Scotland Street Press in Edinburgh. The poems are in Scots and the birds are American, many of them unrecognizable to the average Pentlands or Chilterns birder.

A bridge between Wilson’s native and adopted lands is the crossbill. One of its subspecies is the chunky Scottish crossbill, which is said to be the only endemic bird species in Britain (found nowhere else in the world). It resembles the American crossbill, seen here on the left. Next to our rusty friend is the white-winged crossbill and, perched below, the white-crowned bunting.

As an accompanying poem, Mr MacDonald offers three crossbill stanzas, all beginning with a variation on the line “The crossbill is a brawlike bird”. Other Scots objects of praise in Wilson’s Ornithology & Burds in Scots include the corbie (crow), the brongie (cormorant), peewhit (lapwing) and the mavis (song thrush). It is available from Scotland Street at £9.99.

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Review of MacSonnetries by Jameela Muneer

MacSonnetries: The Buds of May be by Petra Reid | Scotland Street Press, 2018 (2017)
— chosen by Jameela Muneer, teacher, solicitor, writer, and would-be ukulele player

I loved Petra Reid’s MacSonnetries: The Buds of May be, a witty sequence of 154 sonnets, with a contemporary postmodern twist. Each sonnet stands alone: the May be after the Buds suggests a joyful irreverence. Each poem is a response to Shakespeare’s original. It employs the Golden Shovel method, maintaining the Bard’s line endings in every sonnet. I did not immediately notice this at first reading: the structure is unobtrusive. Reid glides effortlessly over the social, political, cultural, and ideological mores of our times. The imagery of social media, computers and artificial intelligence, is juxtaposed humorously with Shakespeare’s concerns over procreation, jealousy and mutability. One of my favourite lines from Sonnet 65 becomes ‘Since jobs, nor shifts, nor hours, nor rising sea’ — I laughed out loud, not resenting the liberty taken by Reid. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2 provokes the nonchalant feminist response that fillers can produce ‘baby bum smooth skin’; seventy-year olds can look like twenty somethings nowadays. Elsewhere there are references to Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall: ‘she will make him last for ever’. Madonna, Nigella, and domestic goddesses also get a mention. I relished the online dating advice: ‘only post your happy’ bits because ‘bingo wings selfies so cruelly show’, as well as ‘how to drop that sinful extra stone’. Subprime mortgages, non-Doms in London, Kim Kardashian and Tinder with Toy-boys are all covered. Finally, Shakespeare’s Sonnets104, 105, rendered into Scots, reveal Reid’s skill in this medium too. This erudite versatile collection offers the double pleasure of rereading Shakespeare, and Reid’s responses, separately, or side by side.