I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
Despite the sudden descent of a lot of extremely Arctic air onto Edinburgh yesterday evening, it was very much worth venturing out for Sara Maitland‘s unofficial launch of her latest book, Gossip from the Forest, published by Granta. The book isn’t technically out yet, so getting to hear Maitland hold forth in her inimitable style and to lay hands on copies was a treat.
According to Maitland, the book in some measure celebrates the 200th anniversary of the first edition of the famous collection of fairytales by the Brothers Grimm. Lest that evoke images of tweeness and skipping elves, Maitland was keen to highlight the fact that the Brothers were proto-ethnographers and linguists whose first version of the tales had to be edited of sexual references once middle-class families started reading the stories to their children. In Maitland’s view the tales are “fundamentally about dispossessed poor people trying to get through a cold winter”, and in keeping with their popular origins they sanction lying, cheating and violence in the interests of the underclasses getting one over on the powerful. An intensely funny take on this came from Maitland’s own re-telling of the Grimm tale The Town Musicians of Bremen as an affectionate pastiche of socialist politics.
According to Maitland, her marvellous Book of Silence was an attempt to figure out how memoir and cultural/historical research might fit together, and Gossip from the Forest tries to go one further by adding fiction to the mix. Other interesting points she mentioned included the differences between Teutonic and Celtic fairytales, and the fact that biodiversity is greater in managed than in ‘pristine’ forests, which says interesting things about the way that both humans and landscapes can benefit from informed co-existence (something very difference from the exploitation which human ‘management’ often spills over into). For these, and many more reasons, I am very much looking forward to digging into this book.
Other upcoming treats from the Edinburgh Radical & Independent Bookfair include this evening’s appearance from Palestinian-Syrian-Glaswegian poet Iyad Hayatleh and his co-author Tessa Ransford, presenting their bilingual book of Arabic-English poetry, A Rug of a Thousand Colours.