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The Swift Dark Tide by Katia Ariel

A strapline on the back cover of The swift dark tide asks the question: “What happens when, in the middle of a happy, heterosexual marriage, a woman falls in love with another woman?”

I had been wondering about that myself... in fact, the answer to that question had recently become extremely personal to me. A close family member had recently left her husband for a woman, and I was stupefied. Not only was I reeling with shock, I had not seen this coming. I was also immensely sad as I’d recently spent time with the couple as they celebrated a major milestone in their relationship. I shared the husband’s grief and surprise. There were children involved. It was messy.

When this book was suggested for review, I grabbed it with both hands, believing that it would offer answers to the suite of questions I faced.

On a superficial level, the book was beautifully crafted with an exquisite cover painting. I later learned that it had been painted by the author’s mother which deepened my respect for her. However, I wasn’t sure about the title; which - together with the beautiful, intimate, painting of the woman on the cover - reminded me of menstrual blood. I don’t know why the association with menstrual blood made me squeamish. I’m a post-menopausal woman; a mother of girls. I’ve spent quite a lot of my life in an intimate cycle with menstrual blood. But then, I come from an era when these things were not openly discussed, along with other sensitive topics like the different kinds of sexual attraction and mental illnesses.

I sat down to read. The book had arrived in time to coincide with my first bout of Covid and I was thrilled to have a few books in which to immerse myself. I hadn’t counted on the brain fog and – instead of reading – I immersed myself for the most part in true crime documentaries and good British drama. When I picked up The swift dark tide the first time I made a genuine attempt to read it, and was impressed by the intelligence and fluidity of the writing, but I quickly became annoyed with the author. I felt her actions were self-indulgent and I didn’t enjoy the graphic allusions to lesbian sex.

But then, as the fog of Covid receded, I picked up the book again. I felt it was important to finish reading it; I still felt that doing so might answer some of my more personal questions about why an apparently heterosexual woman would leave an apparently happy marriage. And thankfully, and happily, it did. Not only did I continue to enjoy Katia Ariel’s beautiful, lyrical, style of writing, I became completely enrolled in the lives of all of her family; and I also became more fond of her. I forgave her for what had seemed at the outset to be unfathomable and unforgivable. And I realised how much personal baggage I had bought to this particular interaction between author and reader.

The swift dark tide is a wonderful book. It will take you far beyond the confines of the author’s personal dilemma, to explore an important part of history: the rich and colourful lives of Russian Jews forced to leave their homes and families for an uncertain future in Australia. It’s a story of personal survival that spans generations of women and unites them. It’s also a story of strong, kind, thoughtful men. Ultimately, it’s a story of courage and love and hope – and healing.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Gazebo Books


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