Sunday, December 11, 2011

In Red by Magdalena Tulli

   In Red is not a book you want to read if you're looking for a linear plot - it's a book to read if you like lots of metaphors and descriptive imagery.  Magdalena Tulli tells the story of the fictional town of Stitchings in wartime Poland, and while the inhabitants of the town make appearances, In Red is more about the town of Stitchings itself.  The story is told through elements of folklore and fairy tales, but the implications are far from the realm of fantasy.

   These little vignettes about Stitchings sometimes seem as though they were written by the town - by the crumbling walls, the cobblestone streets, or the cold, unforgiving landscape.  The narrative style is observant and uninvolved, as if none of these characters ever knew that their stories were being absorbed into something much more permanent than their own brief lives.

   While In Red is not always engaging as far as the plot is concerned, the writing is incredibly beautiful and unique.  Even the simplest phrases resound with poignancy and careful grace.  Here is a passage from the last few pages of the novel:

The town of Stitchings survived the fire.  Stories are indestructible...They endured, sewn together any old how, so long as the thick threads held cause and effect in the right order.  Memory yields most easily to the shape of ready-made patterns.  Even if the decayed fabric has gotten overstretched and tears with a loud noise, never mind the rips, for they are not what the eye lingers upon. (p.157)
Magdalena Tulli has a way with words.  She can verbalize those translucent feelings and ideas that people have but can't explain.  It's like when you're trying to remember a dream and you can't recall anything specific other than the way it made you feel - Magdalena Tulli is remembering the dreams of Stitchings, yet she can turn these fleeting bursts of memory into words that manage to retain the integrity of their origins. 

   And for this wonderful writing we must also give credit to the translator, Bill Johnston, who obviously knows exactly what he is doing!