a Leap

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of a Leap by Anna Enquist, translated by Jeannette K Ringold from LibraryThing Early Reviewer’s Program. It’s a very short book (80 pages), to be published in April 2009, made up of six monologues. Overall they are sad, even tragic stories.

The first one, Alma, was commissioned by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival and its performance preceded a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. I liked the fact that it’s based on historical facts taken from letters and diaries. Alma was Gustav’s wife and she reflects on her life, having given up her own music to support him. It seems he forced her to do so and she is at once repelled and intoxicated by him, but she is torn between her love for him and Alex, a former lover. This is my favourite of the monologues.

The second story, Mendel Bronstein, shocked me. It’s about a Jewish tailor who decides to leave Rotterdam in 1912 to make a new life in America. He is desperate not to forget his own language, with disastrous consequences. This story actually made me squirm.

Cato and Leendert, form the interlinked monologues three and four. Set again in Rotterdam in the spring of 1940 they are a pair of young lovers. Cato first waits in the kitchen for Leendert as the bombs drop on the city and then goes out to search for him as the Germans take control. Meanwhile Leendert is still working at the zoo and ordered to kill the dangerous animals, including his favourite lion, Alexander. I thought this was a touching story full of pathos. It was also based on historical sources and together with Mendel Bronstein was written for the production of Lazarus as part of Rotterdam Cultural Capital of Europe in 2001.

The Doctor is a very short monologue also set in Rotterdam during World War II from a doctor who saves the life of a wounded German general. He wonders if he has done the right thing. This was commissioned by the Bonheur theater company in 2005 for the commemoration of the bombing of Rotterdam in 1940.

The final monologue is  …and I am Sara. Sara is alone in her parents house. She is twenty seven and so far her life has not turned out how she wanted. So much has gone wrong, but now it seems life is set to improve but then disaster overtakes her.

In all these stories fate or circumstances take control, no matter how the characters have struggled in their lives. Anna Enquist is a musician, and a psychoanalyst as well as a poet and novelist. Her writing is clear bringing the people and places to life. I particularly liked the stage directions in first and last monologues and the insights into the characters’ thoughts.

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