The Year of Miracle and Grief by Leonid Borodin

I received my copy of The Year of Miracle and Grief by Leonid Borodin, translated into English by Jennifer Bradshaw, for review from the publishers, Quartet Books. It’s a new edition due to be published in November, a beautiful little book – just 192 pages, and a pleasure to read.

Synopsis adapted from Quartet Books website:

Nearly thirty years after its first publication in English, in November Quartet Books will publish a brand new English edition of a classic fairytale, The Year of Miracle and Grief by Leonid Borodin. A twelve-year-old boy, the son of teachers, finds magic, mystery, romance, and sadness at beautiful Lake Baikal in Siberia. Deep in Siberia lies the second largest and deepest lake on earth, Lake Baikal. When a small boy arrives on its banks, he is amazed by the beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains. As this astonishment yields to inquisitiveness, he begins to explore the fairytale of the area.  

My view:

This book combines the elements of fantasy and reality, so much so that the narrator is convinced that he is not a spinner of yarns, but that he is relating what actually happened in his childhood. Writing 25 years later, he is now free to tell the tale. And it is a magical and grief stricken tale, a tale of love, forgiveness and suffering!

As he explores the area he is fascinated by Lake Baikal and Dead Man’s Crag, a high bare crag except for a pine tree on its peak, a pine tree with just four branches, two pointing up towards the sky and two larger ones pointing down along the trunk. Despite warnings not to climb the Crag he does just that and it is there that he meets a woman sitting on a throne of stone in a niche hollowed out of the rock. This is Sarma, a wrinkled old woman, so old it was impossible to imagine anyone older:

Her hermetically sealed lips were supported by a large jutting chin which came up to meet her nose, and her eyes were so deeply sunk into the network of wrinkles that the old woman seemed to be blind. She was wearing flowing sky-blue clothes, and this flowing blue enveloped her from head to foot; only her hands, encased in sky-blue gloves reaching to the elbow, contradicted the impression that the blue cocoon contained only a head. (pages 44-5)

She is a descendent of the Great Sibir (the origin of the name Siberia). She flooded Prince Baikolla’s valley, the Valley of the Young Moon, creating Lake Baikal, and guards the cave/underground castle where she holds the Prince and his daughter Ri captive, bewitched by a spell because the Prince had killed her son. But she allows the boy to enter the cave where he falls in love with Ri and begs Sarma to release her. What follows is a dramatic transformation in the boy’s life.

Borodin was a Christian and a Soviet dissident. He was born in 1938 in Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal and both his parents were teachers, like the boy in his book. He was imprisoned twice and wrote A Year of Miracle and Grief whilst in prison. It contains Christian elements focussing on the nature of forgiveness and suffering. He won the 2002 Solzhenitsyn Prize and died in 2011.

Other elements of this book are the landscape, the lake and the mountains and the miracle that takes place in experiencing the beauty of the world, the transformation of your thoughts, feelings and your entire being ‘into a sensation of total rapture in the presence of a miracle.’ (page 8).