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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Grief Almanac: A Sequel by Vana Manasiadis

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

Disorientating is a good word to start with when considering this book. Beginning at the cover, with its bold black and white geometric pattern. On the inside flap of that cover a whole poem is reproduced. It is not found anywhere else in the collection, which obviously you will not realise until you have reached the end of the book. Or, if you are one of those people who doesn’t need to know about the book before you start reading, you may never notice.

Next challenge is how to categorise this collection. Is it poetry, prose, memoire, essay or something else? If you look at the pages and not at the words, very few look like traditional poetry, most look more like prose. Some remind me of small labels that you would see under a piece of art at a gallery; title, artist, date and medium. Here is one I like:

There is a familiar format that emerges after a while. On the left-hand page at the top is tightly packed prose, while on the right-hand side are the loosely spread gallery labels. The passages on the left-hand pages will sometimes flow two pages forward, sometimes obviously with broken lines, other times more subtly following the same story or thread. Read them a second time as a continuous narrative, not interrupted with other things. This will reveal other meanings.

And what of the story or the themes? The loss of the author’s mother features heavily. In the section called ‘Recommended Reading’, again a different style of prose paragraphs, we hear the story of mother and daughters getting dressed up to visit the movies. Running for the bus and then trying to sneak into the cinema with children that are too young for the certificate. The shame of being thrown out, followed by the silent bus journey back home.

Vana Manasaidis is Greek in origin and now lives in New Zealand, where she has brought together myths and legends from both cultures. The frequent use of Greek in the text may be problematic for some, since it is not even possible to say the words in your head (which yis possible with some foreign languages, speaking their sounds to fit the rhythm of the poem). Greek gives no such luxury. The lines remain somehow silent, like tiny mute drawings.

It is impossible to call this collection a story. These are fragments patched together, grabbed from many places. These are reports from newspapers, new and old, these are myths and famous screen actresses, mixed with reports of crossing the Tararuas from a century ago. Then, lurking somewhere, often half hidden, is that lost figure of a mother.

Reviewer: Marcus Hobson

Published by Seraph Press. RRP $30


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