Song of the Stork by Stephan Collishaw
War is not a grand narrative, but the accumulation of grief on individuals and, here, a specific individual. I was unsure of its exact location, though there is a renowned Selo in Poland and numerous villages of Selo in Russia. Frankly, the exact location of the village doesn’t matter as the The Song of the Stork by Stephan Collishaw follows the life of a Jewish teenage girl during WWII, firstly after the Nazis come through and kill her friends and family, and then as she tries to survive the constant threat.
And the soul-crushing impact of the atrocities of war on an ordinary individual is what The Song portrays.
It’s an interesting study: it was half-way through when I suddenly realised what had been nagging me about the suppressed emotion shown in the characters. This repression, this numbness is an integral part of the problems and terrors they face and Stephan Collishaw does a great job of not over-emphasising their reactions. Here, the terrors of war and its effect on an individual meant there is no room for grand, romantic love, or dramatic displays of grief. What is left is the raw need to survive, a desperate yearning for simple support, simple care, simple kindness and an urge for safety and the stability of what once was, but is now no longer.
Not that there is a lack of emotion, here, merely that is more accurately portayed in the situation than might be expected. The simple kindness shown towards our young heroine (Yael, a young Jewish girl) by one who is already shunned and threatened by society is a delight. This is enhanced by their contrasting experiences: he was ostracised by society before the war simply because he is mute, acts oddly and finds it difficult to express himself; now she finds herself as isolated simply because of her religion and background.
It is unsurprising they are drawn to each other. However, the reality shown here is that overt expressions of emotion are draining, are something that a survivor in the midst of the perils of war cannot afford to display. Yael loses everything that is dear to her – even her new protector – and we discover that she was luckier than some. Yael can never find the stability we all yearn for so suffers through the constant need to run and hide, an inadvertant pregnancy, a continual drip-feed of loss and grief, fear of discovery, guilt of betrayal, and that constant yearning for love and a reunited family.
I wish the book was longer – not that it is short, by any means. Sure, there is sometimes a need to lighten up on detail later in a novel, but it was that early detail and insight of an intense, personal struggle through despair and hope that Stephan Collishaw most satisfyingly expressed. In reading, you are drawn in to the quiet between the storms, the Russian writers and poetry, and this reader’s yearning to remain in the immersion meant the end came far too soon.
Just read, immerse and yearn for Yael’s survival.