Fiction set in USA and EUROPE: the life of Maria Callas
Flying kites with the Kosovans in Geordieland (NORTH EAST UK)
26th August 2013
Flying with Kites by Alan Reynolds, novel set in Kosovo and Newcastle upon Tyne.
The cover of this book is an eye catching start to a journey that begins in Eastern Europe and moves rapidly West to the UK. A bright, colourful kite on a heavy, grey watercolour background, a bleakness perhaps symbolising the stark reality of the war in Kosovo at the end of the 1990s; or perhaps reflecting the grey climate that can pervade the North East of England, where the majority of the novel takes place. The author, Alan Reynolds, captures both Kosovo and Newcastle/Gateshead with clarity and insight, and it is clear he is very fond of most of the characters he has created.
Flying with Kites is Alan’s debut novel, written in a matter of weeks, and is clearly well researched. Katya flees her home with her son Milosz, in the belief her husband Ibi is dead, and on the journey is thrown together with Edi, another woman. Both end up as refugees in the North East of England, not far from the Metro Centre. Once settled, the novel explores the environment and people who surround them, and there is a true clash of cultures, a huge learning curve for both women – and for the local folk amongst whom they live. The reader has to ponder what it must truly be like for people who are ripped from their culture and deposited in another culture, which is so far removed from their own, and where the local brogue is a language virtually in its own right. Alan goes to some length to convey the Geordie way of speaking with expressions like the Toon Army (supporters of Newcastle United Football Club), a mention of stotty cakes (a local form of bread) and Newcastle Broon Ale (a form of beer) peppering the pages; together with a spattering of Geordie turns-of-phrase like bonny lad, to why-aye pet and more. Katya may profess to speak English very well, but Geordie is something else! And you cannot have a novel set in the North East without some mention of football in the same breath as former football star Alan Shearer – this novel has enough to keep everyone happy!
As the novel progresses, we see Katya developing and blossoming from a fairly shy village school teacher into a confident and self-contained woman. Milosz, her young son, is always present as a reminder that she is not only a woman but also a Mother – however, he lacks definition and only appears in terms of having his nappy changed (innumerable times), sitting in his recliner, out in his buggy and eventually graduating to being able to sit in his lobster pot (a seat on wheels). The relationship between the two has so much unexplored potential…
Alan’s writing style is fluid and the book glides along in an engaging way. There were a couple of things, however, that took the edge off the overall enjoyment – one was the inordinate reliance on putting words into inverted commas and speech marks, for example… a huge “baby” store…”Nikon”…”extreme”…”home” fixture… Edi in her “gear”…she could now “text” on her mobile. After a while it felt like Speech Mark Tourettes had broken out in the writing and it actually became quite distracting from, what is, essentially, a good story. The second issue was the occasional choice of words that felt rather coy and old fashioned and didn’t quite sit with some of the other more overt descriptions of sexual encounters. A lady with a ‘derriere’ (oops, inverted commas are catching!), or Carole, having just finished her period, is described as being ‘over her indisposition’.
There are devices in the storyline that are clearly brought in to move the story along and draw the book to its conclusion. These sometimes appeared out of the blue (thinking here of the Rankin family towards to the end) and rather than being integral to the storyline felt more ephemeral and functional – but as authors develop their own individual style, a way to incorporate these devices more smoothly will I am sure develop in future books.
We are very much looking forward to Alan’s sequel to Flying with Kites, which is out now. The Favour. Once again we follow the fortunes of Katya and the choices she makes in her new life.
And if you want to experience Geordieland through the eyes of an author, then this novel might be a good place to start. We have brought together more books that capture the feel of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland and environs here
Tina and the TripFiction Team