- Book: Tasting Sunlight
- Location: Bavaria
- Author: Ewald Arenz
This is a delightfully poignant and bucolic novel, with a touch of de Maupassant, maudlin in parts, uplifting in others.
Sally is a young woman being treated for anorexia who has had enough of parental and medical intervention. She takes off and lands on Liss’ smallholding. Liss demands nothing of her, she weighs up the situation, leaves her be and gradually Sally starts to help around the farm. As Sally unfurls from her emotional exile, Liss encourages her to accompany her through the pear orchard, where together they sample the various varieties, some as old as the hills in which they grow (in fact in German the novel is called Alte Sorten – Old Varieties); they take jaunts on an old tractor, harvest potatoes and organise the harvest of the Riesling grape, which specifically has to be picked when the temperatures are cool.
The novel is rooted in southern German tradition. Imagine those wonderfully solid house that you see when you head south towards the Alps, heavy stone walls, solid pitched roofs and farming equipment dotting the landscape. Vineyards and pastures, cow bells clanking, pine forests layering their fragrance on the landscape. You can almost smell the hay and manure as Liss goes about her daily chores of harvesting, bottling and pickling and heaving herself on to her old fashioned tractor.
She of course has a backstory and gradually Sally discovers what it is. The clues soon fall into place as we, the readers, are taken on this journey of friendship and learning.The colours of Autumn – September and October, when the novel is set – are painted in rich and evocative tones.
This is a relatively easy novel to read, written with subtlety by an author who clearly delights in capturing the landscape around him. It does of course have difficult themes that ground it in human experience. A very good read.