My second holiday read was The storyteller's granddaughter by Margaret Redfern. What? Two books in four days? I read fast. I would have read a third book but The Storyteller's granddaughter is a work of fierce beauty. Parts of it required re-reading – multiple times.
Published by Honno the Welsh women's press (well, sue me, I have an interest in Welsh publishers too) and reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, The storyteller's granddaughter breaks all the rules of a 'popular' novel. It starts with an obscure prologue like first chapter, follows with the history of a tribe, swaps viewpoints more times than is usual, and uses Turkish and Welsh words without a great deal of translation, so that, at times, you are dizzied by its shifts. Yet, it works.
On so many levels, it works.
The story starts, late summer, in fourteenth century Anatolia, and follows the journey of a cobbled together group of traders lead by the enigmatic Welshman Dafydd ap Rhickett. Into this group comes a Yürük girl disguised as a boy who is seeking her lost English grandfather. The Welshman recognises the girl, he has seen her in the Yürük camp but, for reason of his own, he agrees to keep her secret. Through illness, intrigue, attack and disaster, the group races to catch the Venetian fleet sailing from Attaleia. Enroute, they come under the spell of the Yürük girl. For all harbour secrets, the biggest of which is being carried by the enigmatic Welshman himself.
The beauty of the novel comes from Redfern's use of language which is rich and poetic. Also from the intermingling of Sufi mysticism and western thought. Each character carries pain, each one is haunted by their secrets, yet in this community of many tongues and faiths, they journey towards peace and resolution. Could the story truly have happened? Possibly not. But there is enough beauty in the telling to make one yearn for belief. Indeed, Redfern gives us a multifarious vision of how a life of faith may be lived.
Great wrong was done by your father, and by the monks who would not listen to you. There are more ways of serving God than that of life in a monastery. That is what Nene used to say. Each to his own. Find gladness in your living. That is what she said. It is in gladness that you worship and honour the life God gave you and for which you are intended.
I'll admit, I ordered this book because I have an interest in Honno, an independent cooperative press that exists to get best of Welsh women's writing into print. You cannot submit to them unless you are Welsh, have lived in Wales, or have a significant connection to Wales. I sometimes lie awake at night, wondering whether having a Welsh mother, multiple holiday visits, speaking and teaching Cymraeg, and being related to the late Welsh historical novelist John James would be enough. These are questions I may put to the test when I stay at Stiwdio Maelor next year. Meanwhile, one thing is certain. To be picked up by Honno you need to be an exceptional writer.