Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Peter Hobbs’ In the Orchard the Swallows (2012)

Project Notes: Approaching the halfway point (Day 21 of 45), I still have books half-read and pieces unpolished. But fortunately my enthusiasm for this project has spread and another Anansi reader has offered her thoughts on a few of her favourite books in their catalogue. Sandra has been commenting here for some time now and although she doesn’t have a website or a blog yet, she is working on it. In the meantime, you can read her thoughts here on a couple of December days.

Please welcome Sandra  into the bookchat on BIP and engage her in conversation about Hobbs’ work and other good storytelling in the comments below.

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This is a very special reading experience. If you plan to read it, try to set aside enough time to read it in one sitting to get the full effect.

House of Anansi, 2012

This story takes place in northern Pakistan where a boy of fourteen falls in love with a young woman named Saba. The boy’s father tends a pomegranate orchard and this is one of the boy’s favourite places. One day in the fruit market he presents Saba with “the finest pomegranate” he could find. A short time after, at a wedding in the town and at which Saba’s father is the guest of honour, the two young people meet and talk late into the evening. They talk about many things and it gets later and they fall asleep. They are discovered and the boy is brutally beaten and Saba is also beaten. The boy tries to defend her. He was thrown into jail, then moved to another prison and he remained there for fifteen years. He never saw his family again. Upon release from prison he makes his way back to the pomegranate orchard and, as he begins to recover his strength, he writes this account of his life.

The writing is a poetic love letter and sadness is inherent in every word balanced somewhat by the beauty of the setting and the richness of the words. Here are some of those words:

“In the rose dawn I greet the trees. Trace with my eyes their untidy forms. I imagined them for so long, summoning them up in the darkness when they were lost to me, and each morning now it is an acute pleasure to return to them. They are in blossom, their branches arrayed in scarlet and white.”

“I am Saba, you said, and the name seemed like a wonderful gift to me. It seems so still. I have carried it for a long time, the most precious thing I owned. I spoke it rarely, so that it would not become tainted by my surroundings. I kept it buried deep inside, and when I had nothing else to cling to, with a single whisper in the dark I would name you, careful not to be heard and in doing so, something of you would be restored to me, and something of myself would be saved.”

“And then the swallows were awake, hunting insects among the trees. They arrowed past in a glide and then turned with a neat flutter. They dipped overhead, bestowing with their wings a blessing on us.”

“Your father would say that we had no business being together, that we belonged to different worlds. But we come from the same earth, you and I, the same people. We speak the same language, drink from the same water tap. We know the same sun, the same sky. So if even we must be divided from one another, what hope is there for the rest of the world?”

“But I believe that she still remembers this place, that she thinks of it more often than she allows herself to admit. She remembers how beautiful the trees are in the early morning, how swift the birds that dart between them. And she remembers with something close to sadness the boy she once knew there, even though she does not know what became of him, even though she may suppose he is dead.”

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11 comments to Peter Hobbs’ In the Orchard the Swallows (2012)

  • Sounds heartbreaking. I’ll save this for a sunny summer day.

  • Sandra

    A sunny summer day would indeed be a good choice, Niranjana. A sunny day in an orchard would be particularly apt. There is indeed a heartbreaking side to the story but there is as well an intensity that seems to arise from the devotion of the writer to the woman and the love he has never forgotten and,somehow, the reader is borne aloft by the swallows rather than dragged down to darker thoughts.

  • This sounds like it would be a great, if not sad read. I will definitely add it to my list.

  • Sandra

    Monique, I hope you have as positive an experience as I did. You will be glad you added it to your list.

  • Ooh I saw this at Indigo recently and was attracted to the cover and title. It sounds like a wonderful read, I just added to the wish list. Thanks, Sandra and BIP.

  • Sandra

    You are welcome Claire. It is a vibrant, warm cover isn’t it? The story has the same “feel”. We both hope you get to enjoy the book sometime soon.

  • Such a tragic story! But what beautiful prose! I’ve just added this to my TBR wish list. Thank – and welcome, Sandra!

  • Sandra

    Thank you for the welcome Debbie. Glad to hear that you are adding this one to your list.

  • The cover really stands out for me, too, and I think you’re right, Sandra, in that many books of this length are best enjoyed in a single sitting when possible. I know, for me, that’s especially important with a sobering story, as otherwise I make excuses to avoid returning to the heartbreak, even though those stories often end up to be real favourites in the end. Thanks for your review of this one, Sandra: make yourself at home.

  • Oh, this sounds tragic and beautiful. The cover art is just stunning. I may look into this one, though I must admit that my preference is for uplifting novels these days.

  • Sandra

    Amal, you are right about the tragedy and the beauty. I would encourage you to try it because the beauty comes close to balancing the tragedy and the feeling that one is left with,- yes, is a sadness but the kind that doesn’t let go of the beauty or the loyalty and/or the genuineness of the young man’s lifelong devotion and the strength that it gave him to go on. Thanks so much for commenting.

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