What You Can See from Here by Mariana Leky

Hey, Doug, I’m reading a novel translated from the German! Ably translated into English by Tess Lewis, who’s done a really good job, in particular, of getting the song lyrics from the 1980s not quite right when the characters are explaining them to one another.

What You Can See From Here is an interesting sort of book, a bit of a slice-of-life village novel with swirls of magical realism, following the life of Luisa, a young girl doted upon by her unconventional family and friends as she grows up, through tragedy and heartbreak, to discover who she’s meant to be. It’s quite a sweet book for being riddled with death, as the story opens with Selma (whom we’ll learn incidentally is Luisa’s grandmother) having a dream of an okapi, which always heralds a death in their village. The villagers react in their own idiosyncratic ways, depending on how superstitious they ordinarily are. Still, the death when it comes is shocking, and resets the course of village life for decades to come.

Fast-forward twelve years and Luisa is twenty-two, trying to set a course for her own life and unexpectedly falling in love. There’s heartbreak and healing and a lot of wise, bittersweet words as she spends the next few years coming into her own. I found myself crying almost in spite of myself at the last death in this novel, and think that overall this was very well done.  My only complaint is that I don’t necessarily think the book does anything to back up the claim Luisa makes regarding Marlies near the end. A quibble tho, in the otherwise deft plotting.

Overall, WYCSFH is a liltingly written, emotionally satisfying novel of mostly kind, sometimes foolish people doing their best towards the end of the 20th century. Which sounds rather like I’m damning with faint praise, but I sincerely feel that books like this require a certain mood, a desire to be reminded that all’s well that ends well, that life goes on and the best we can do is to make sure that our own lives are well-lived. I appreciated this novel because I’m almost always adjacent to that mood, but if you’re looking for the sharper kinds of novelty or intellectual intrigue, this may not be the book for you. This is, however, the perfect book for a hot bath and a big glass of wine and the prospect of slipping into something warm and cozy afterwards.

What You Can See from Here by Mariana Leky was published today June 22 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and is available from all good booksellers, including

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