Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
The Lost Soul (Amazon | Book Depository)
Written by Olga Tokarczuk Illustrated by Joanna Concejo Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones Original title: Zgubiona dusza (Polish, Wydawnictwo Format, 2017) Publisher: Seven Stories Press (2021) ISBN: 9781644210345 (ISBN10: 1644210347). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
While this book, at first glance, does not really fit our current reading theme, I really wanted to feature it; plus, it can be argued that the surreal itinerant nature of souls in this narrative can tangentially touch on the migratory aspect I wish to surface and highlight as part of our theme.
The first paragraph of this story can serve as a powerful mentor text in writing. It is riveting, pulls the reader in and gets one invested in the storyline; it is also strange without being totally inaccessible:
Once upon a time there was a man who worked very hard and very quickly, and who had left his soul far behind him long ago. In fact, his life was all right without his soul – he slept, ate, worked, drove a car, and even played tennis. But sometimes he felt as if the world around him were flat, as if he were moving across a smooth page in a math exercise book, entirely covered in evenly spaced squares.
What a powerful description of the sense of alienation most people feel – from themselves, from their community, from the larger world around them. This disenfranchisement and sense of quiet despair are also perfectly captured by Concejo’s crosshatch pencil artwork, the largely monochromatic hues, the feeling of gloom that permeates through the pages.
When the man went to see a doctor, I was amazed by the diagnosis of this man who lost his soul and the prescription given to him:
You must find a place of your own, sit there quietly, and wait for your soul. Right now it’s sure to be wherever you were two or three years ago. So the waiting might take a while. I can’t think of any other cure for you.
While it appears idyllic – and to some extent – makes perfect sense, there is the implicit assumption that the man in this story, named John, has the wherewithal to secure his own place (an unattainable dream for most impoverished people on the planet) and the means and the resources to give up work, and simply sit still without going hungry.
It also made me reflect on whether those who are in disadvantaged economic circumstances are forever doomed to have their souls lost to them as they toil tirelessly everyday, eking out a living to survive, and going through the motions of what is required just to get through this day and the next.
On another note, the pandemic that forced everyone to remain at home, grounding most people in their own respective spaces – may also be the universe’s way of allowing our souls to catch up to us.
It also made me think about the things that we value, how they define us, and the ever-pressing need to just sit still every once in awhile – maybe not for years at a time similar to John in this story – but enough for us to catch our breath, and for our lost souls to reunite with us. Perhaps for less privileged individuals, their souls travel at a different velocity altogether, allowing the universe to balance itself out. Who knows?
#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 52 out of target 100