Thursday, 19 March 2020

BLOG TOUR: Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize Longlist: VIRTUOSO by Yelena Moskovich #SUDTP20

Author: Yelena Moskovich
Publisher: Serpent's Tail

"You gotta keep speaking, and if it don't sound right in one language, just learn another."

I’m very excited to be one of the 66 bloggers taking part in a blog tour introducing and celebrating books that have been longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize.

About the Prize:

I admit that I hadn’t heard of this literary prize before. For those of you who are like me, let me give you some quick info. Launched in 2006, the annual Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize aims to encourage raw creative talent worldwide and is open to authors aged 39 or under. Read more about the prize here

This year, international and under-represented voices dominate the longlist and explore pressing social and world themes across identify, culture and power. Twelve novels have been longlisted for the prize. Link to all longlisted books here

The shortlist will be announced on the 7th April, followed by a British Library Event, London on the 13th May and Winner’s Ceremony held in Swansea on International Dylan Thomas Day, 14th May.

About the Author:

Yelena Moskovich was born in the former USSR and emigrated to Wisconsin with her family as Jewish refugees in 1991. She studied theatre at Emerson College, Boston, and in France at the Lecoq School of Physical Theatre and Université Paris 8. Her plays and performances have been produced in the US, Canada, France, and Sweden. Her first novel The Natashas was published by Serpent's Tail in 2016. She has also written for New Statesman, Paris Review and 3:AM Magazine, and in French for Mixt(e) Magazine, won the 2017 Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize in 2017 and was a curator for the 2018 Los Angeles Queer Biennial. She lives in Paris. 

What attracted me to this book:

The debate over the book American Dirt which ensued on social media has made me more aware of the importance of reading widely and choosing to read underrepresented and authentic voices. So I was very excited to receive a copy of Virtuoso by Yelena Moskovich with the invitation to take part in this blog tour.

About the book:

For the first ten years of her life, Jana was a simple Czech girl, a watercolour. Her days were a clock run by the Czechoslovakian State Security, snapping hidden photos in their plainclothes. Much fervent artwork was created: Man Subverting Republic (Black and White), Woman Distributing (Tryptic). Man and Woman Organizing (Reprint).

Jana was a watercolour, until the raven-haired girl Zorka came. Jana, now an interpreter in Paris, hasn't seen Zorka in a decade.

Aimée is in Paris too, happily married and trying to get into her hotel room. On the other side of the door is her wife Dominique, face down on the hotel linen, one hand drooping off the side of the bed, fingers curled in, wedding ring white gold like an eye frozen mid-wink.

A body now, no longer a person.

As Aimée and Jana's stories slowly circle through time and place, they lead inexorably together...

My musings:

Virtuoso initially tells about three women: Jana, a simple Czech girl growing up in Prague, whose life is changed by the friendship with the impulsive Zorka; and Aimee, a Parisian whose wife has just been found dead in a hotel room. The women’s stories are interwoven in a way that skips back and forth in time, snapshots that roll out like a surreal fever dream, flashing images full of colour and feeling. Soon it became apparent to me that there was no central story, as each and every character takes the stage for a few pages, then bows gracefully and lets the next one take her place. Chatroom scenes between two women, Amy and Domenika, who meet online and fall in love, pepper the other narrative and provide yet another thread that flashes in between the pages.

Virtuoso is unusual and unique, like nothing I have ever read before. It’s not an easy book to review, with moving images in my mind rather than the type of logical and chronological narrative I am used to. It left, however, some vivid pictures behind that prompted reflection, and affected me more on an emotional than a rational level. I was so intrigued by the character of Zorka, who is so different from any mainstream character I have ever me in a book. Her mother’s words “Zorka, my love, please don’t be weird” almost broke my heart.

I should give a trigger warning, because there is some explicit sexual content that won’t be for everyone.

In summary, Virtuoso was an unusual read for me that has settled in the dark murky waters of my psyche and is still stirring there. At times I was not sure what to make of it, but felt compelled to read on, as if under a spell. It’s the type of book you need to pick up for yourself to see if it’s a good fit for you, and it would be interesting to compare notes. Surreal, honest and utterly original are the words that come to mind.

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