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In this wholly enchanting first novel by Polish poet, Wioletta Greg, life in a politically tumultuous and menacing 1980’s rural Poland is seen through the eyes of the precocious Wiola in chapters progressing from her very earliest memory fragments through to those of her teenage years. The sheer beauty, freshness, and power of Greg’s language to capture a child’s wonder, confusion, and curiosity at the world, and to summon nearly palpable childhood memories in the reader, is unparalleled. With a mesmerizing and sensuous poetic touch, Greg consistently uses the most unexpected of details to suggest a time, a place, a feeling, a mood: “I lay down beside her and watched the sky spin candyfloss out of the clouds.” This dazzling novel is a spell-binding testimony to the belief that the child in us is universal, ever-present, and can be stirred to life by a consummate writer. It is a rare sparkling gem of a book.— From Jeanne's Picks
“In Swallowing Mercury, nuanced gestures, drop-dead metaphors, and indelible observations coalesce in a series of short, adolescent episodes from 1980s Poland. English-speaking readers possessing no knowledge of the political climate and history of the time, fear not, for Greg's primary concern is one of universality, as many scenes take on that unmistakable relatability of childhood. Stories of high jinks, first love, familial absurdity, and (inevitably) death are the basis of these vignettes, while an excellent note from translator Eliza Marciniak contextualizes the book within the wider world.”
— John Gibbs (W), Green Apple Books on the Park, San Francisco, CA
Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize
"Achieves a form of literary alchemy that mesmerizes."--The New York Times
In this celebrated debut from prize-winning poet Wioletta Greg, Wiola looks back on her youth in a close-knit, agricultural community in 1980s Poland. Her memories are precise, intense, distinctive, sensual: a playfulness and whimsy rise up in the gossip of the village women, rumored visits from the Pope, and the locked room in the dressmaker's house, while political unrest and predatory men cast shadows across this bright portrait. In prose that sparkles with a poet's touch, Wioletta Greg's debut animates the strange wonders of growing up.