Tuesday 25 September 2018

This isn't described as 'gripping' for no reason! Check it out! #historical @rararesources @VivienneVermes #fiction #thrillers

The Barefoot Road


Vivienne Vermes
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Vivienne Vermes' debut novel is a gripping read which will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, thrillers and evocative themes. The book begins with a young woman found, emaciated and unconscious, in the mountains surrounding a village in Transylvania. When it is discovered that she is of an ethnic group which was violently driven out of the regions many years before, old wounds are reopened as the villagers are reminded of their role in the bloodshed.

An uneasy peace is maintained until a young married man falls in love with the girl, and tension begin to rise within the community. The mysterious disappearance of a child causes this tension to mount into hysteria, driving the story to its chilling outcome.

WWBB asked the question:
'Why that particular character?'

'She was Paraschiva – hen-throttler, stew-maker, healer, witch and mother. 

She was the beginning of The Barefoot Road. I have to rewind ten years, from fiction to fact:

I am hiking in a remote part of Transylvania. Night is falling. The group has gone on ahead. I want to linger here, in the forest. Although it’s called “The Valley of Wolves”, I’m not afraid. There is such a thing as the spirit of place. It is everywhere on this journey, but especially here, among the trees, at dusk, in a liminal place between light and dark. The guide tells me not to linger too long. We are spending the night in a remote farmhouse that belongs to an old woman called Paraschiva. We’ve already been told about her. Or rather, warned. She has one eye, fingers as warped as billhooks and a vicious temper that will cut you down with a babble of words in a language you don’t understand.

I linger too long, until the first stars have come out, then hurry down the rough track that leads to the farmhouse. Now I’m afraid of Paraschiva’s scolding.

She is waiting for me, silhouetted against the light, framed by a huge wooden gate. Above it is a portal with bats’ wings stencilled out of the wood, so that now the stars shine through them.

When I arrive, Paraschiva takes me in her arms and hugs me. There is something special in this hug, this welcome, this moment in time. I can’t put words to it. It feels strange as if I have come home.

I join the group for a dinner of Paraschiva’s special stew, washed down with a thick local wine.

The group retires early. Paraschiva and I sit up with a bottle of tuica, the local plum brandy. In broken German, she tells me stories of the village: about how the violins that used to be repaired by the “people who lived down by the river” have been out of tune for many years, ever since those people “left”. Later, I find out that these were the Jews, deported during the Second World War, as were the Rrom. She regrets the loss of their music.

She tells me other tales: how she lost her eye (she swears me to secrecy), how she came to be in this remote spot, how she keeps a coffin in the shed with the hanging hams and garlic and sacks of potatoes, “in case the Mother calls me in the winter”. The Mother? “Not God the Father?” I ask Paraschiva. “If you like.” She shrugs her shoulders.

She is as rich as her homemade stew, or her home-brewed tuica. She seems to have grown out of the wild soil of this region -- fertile, abundant, yet soaked in the blood of so many atrocities. She is rough and wise, crude and refined, harsh and tender.

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The guide is astonished at our connection. “She never talks like this,” he says.

The next day, my parting view of Paraschiva is of her standing in the frame of the gate, waving goodbye until I disappear out of her sight. It is as if she is wishing me well on my long and winding road. As if she will be there, witch and wise woman, hovering over me with her dark-green brew of wisdom, spells and words.

I know she has to go into a book.

I begin to write – just about her, with no plot, no idea of where my story is going - just with the knowledge that something of Paraschiva has to live on in me and in my pages.  As well as the echo of her words about the village being “out of tune” ever since the people who repaired the violins “left”.

Paraschiva died three years later. The guide visited me in Paris, where I lived. He told me that on her deathbed, she had told him that her real name was not Paraschiva at all, nor was she Romanian, as everyone had thought. Her real name was Annushka*, her origins were Hungarian Jewish, and her last name was Schwartz*. The same name, the same background as my own father, who had escaped Nazi Hungary in 1940. Were we related? The name is common enough. Probably not, except in spirit.

Some meetings, however brief, change the course of our lives. It was a long haul, writing The Barefoot Road. It began with Paraschiva. Later, much later, would come the story, the plot, the other characters – some invented, some drawn from life – but the beginning was the hug from the old woman who waited for me under the bats’ wings filled with stars.'

* Not her real name, nor our family’s, changed for reasons of personal privacy.

About the author:

Vivienne Vermes is a writer and actress of Irish and Hungarian descent who divides her time between Paris and London. She has published four collections of poetry: Sand Woman, Metamorphoses, Passages and When the World Stops Spinning, and has performed her work in festivals throughout Europe. She is winner of the Piccadilly Poets’ award, the Mail on Sunday’s Best Opening of a Novel competition, as well as Flash 500s prize for short prose and the Paragram national competition for best poem and “petite prose”. She has taught creative writing in universities in Transylvania, and runs a writers’ workshop in Paris.

As an actress, she has played roles in a number of French films, including Les Trois Frères, Le Retour and in Les Profs 2 in which she portrayed Queen Elizabeth II. Her voice also warns passengers on the Paris metro to “Mind the gap”. The Barefoot Road is her first novel.

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