Wednesday 22 August 2018

The Barefoot Road by Vivienne Vermes

Family Drama

This was a very difficult book for me to categorise: set in Transylvania, there is no time period mentioned at any point. It is a story of a small village and its inhabitants – no Kings, Queens, Dukes or whatever. No heroes and certainly no superheroes. And no Dracula either, as it happens. But none of these characters, real or fictional, are needed.

Paraschiva is an old woman, her son, Pavel, is a mute. She is something of a healer and there are those in the village who believe she might be a witch. So she lives a little way out and rarely visits the village. Her only real friend is a younger married man called Ioan Trifoi, who helps her out and brings her provisions. They live a peaceful life, enduring the ravages of winter and the heat of summer. Until Pavel brings home a young girl, half dead from exposure and the effects of a still birth out on the mountain.

Paraschiva nurses her back to health and knows that the girl, Mariuca, is from another village with a different language, one that had been formed when the inhabitants had been driven out of Paraschiva's village because they were 'different'.

Mariuca, accepted with suspicion by the villagers, teaches Ioan's daughter and her friend songs and dances from her own village, but then she is blamed for the sudden bad weather and plague of rats which follow a celebration. She is branded as evil and, led by the leader of the village committee, the locals are determined to be rid of her. Meanwhile, she is keeping a terrible secret …

The prose and attention to detail is magnificent. The descriptions are vivid and authentic. Each character is well drawn and very human. But what really makes this story is the build-up of tension as the villagers are whipped into a murderous mob by each new event, all of  which leads to a terrible and violent climax. The author is also a poet and runs a writing class in Paris; all this shows through in her writing and a very impressive first novel.

Though the potential audience might be limited, I have no hesitation in recommending this book.

© Richard Tearle

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