Saturday, July 21, 2012

In the Orchard, the Swallows by Peter Hobbs

A 29-year-old man in Pakistan writes to his childhood sweetheart about his life while he convalesces after having spent 15 years in prison. In the Orchard, the Swallows deals with the effects of war and torture on an individual, and yet it's also a gentle story.

British author Peter Hobbs -- who now lives in Canada -- writes in simple, charming prose. It gives the book a timeless feel, as does the setting, a mountainous rural area where the man's family once owned a pomegranate orchard. The clues that the story is taking place in present day do not detract from its aura of timelessness.

The narrator's calm, assured voice is one that will stay with me:

"How easily these days pass. The months are wearing lightly; I hardly feel them as they go. After the slowness of time in prison, it is a shock. No longer unbearable, time has become a comfort, as soft as a blanket. [...] Boredom is something I no longer experience. It is gone from me, lost during those years of enforced stillness. I could watch the sky all day, and breathe the air, and never once grow tired of it. It is enough, more than enough, not to suffer."

I'm not sure how I feel about the ending, but I really enjoyed the rest of book, which is only 139 pages long. The narrator ponders the emotion that helped to sustain him through his ordeal. "Love must be shared, or else it is just madness." Is it love that he feels, or obsession? An intriguing question. An enchanting book.

Readalike: The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson.

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