Today I am sharing my thoughts on the beautiful new novel by Ewald Arenz, Tasting Sunlight. My thanks to Orenda Books for the advance copy of the book, and to Anne Cater of Random Things tours for the tour invite. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Teenager Sally has just run away from a clinic where she is being treated for anorexia. She’s furious with everything and everyone, and wants to be left in peace.
Liss is in her forties, living alone on a large farm that she runs single-handedly. She has little contact with the outside world, and no need for other people.
From their first meeting, Sally realises that Liss isn’t like other adults; she expects nothing of Sally and simply accepts who she is, offering her a bed for the night with no questions asked.
That night becomes weeks and then months, as an unlikely friendship develops and these two damaged women slowly open up – connecting to each other, reconnecting with themselves, and facing the darkness in their pasts through their shared work on the land.
Achingly beautiful, profound, invigorating and uplifting, Tasting Sunlight is a story of friendship across generations, of love and acceptance, of the power of nature to heal and transform, and the goodness that surrounds us, if only we take time to see it…
This is a book that took me by surprise. It’s kind of everything and nothing all at once. A story of a very unlikely friendship, of understanding and of second chances. Of two very different women who learn how to be themselves by spending time with each other. It is beautifully crafted, able to take the simplest of actions and emotions and amplify it. The kind of story where even though it appears nothing much is happening, you are learning so much about the protagonists and, maybe, just a shade about yourself too.
I know I say this quite often, but this is a very difficult book to review. On the surface it is the story of Sally, a young girl who has run away from the clinic that she had been admitted to by her parents. On her travels she runs into Liss, a woman who runs a farm single handedly and who, recognising something in Sally, offers her a place to stay. One night becomes many, and an unlikely bond begins to build between the two women. Little is said between the two in the beginning, actions speaking with far greater a volume than words could ever achieve. Just small acts and circumstances, no doubt orchestrated by Liss, but that allow Sally to settle and to find a kind of peace that she never thought she could achieve.
There is a darkness in Sally’s past which needs to be explored, and that is done so in a very careful and measured way, not exaggerating her condition or being dismissive of her struggles. The author is very careful not to glamourise what she is going through, allowing Sally to work through it on her own terms, and to allow readers to do so too, so we don’t rush to judgement. There is no attempt by Liss to ‘fix’ Sally, more an understanding and a kinship that is derived from her own troubled past. As the story progresses we learn more of this past, see the sadness which has come to cast a shadow over Liss’s present, and one which Sally slowly begins to understand. This is the kind of healing process that the two women go through over the course of the novel, this most unlikely of friendships perhaps being the tonic they both need.
Ewald Arenz has taken two very difficult subjects and handled them with empathy and compassion, drawing together a story which is as infused with hope and possibility as it tainted by shadows. He carefully explores the subjects of mental health and abuse, both personal and at the hands of others, as well as taking a very measured look at the impact of families upon the lives of those around them. Of the weight of expectation and a desire to break free of the bonds that hold them down, that is reflected in both of the characters.
Whilst this is largely a very gentle novel, there are still scenes which can shock and, perhaps due to the unexpected nature of them, had great emotional impact upon me as a reader. I really liked the way in which the author has captured the setting so perfectly and vividly and made it, and the few characters we meet on the periphery of Sally and Liss’s lives so integral to our understanding and appreciation of them as characters that just a couple of paragraphs of involvement can make such an impact. The language is beautiful, with excellent translation by Rachel Ward that captures the sometimes melancholic, often hopeful and light undertones of the narrative perfectly.
This is not a fast paced novel, it doesn’t need to be, and yet it flowed so well that I found I simply raced through it, finishing far more quickly than I had anticipated. Atmospheric, thoughtful and highlighting the power of understanding and empathy, if you liked the novels of Helga Flatland then this is absolutely the kind of book for you.
About the Author
Ewald Arenz is a German best selling author of a wide range of novels, short stories, musicals, and plays. He has been awarded various national and international prizes for literature; among them the Bavarian Prize for Literature or the Naples Literary Award. His novels “Tasting Sunlight” and “The Grand Summer” have sold over half a million copies in the German edition and stayed within the first ten on the SPIEGEL bestseller list for more than two years.
In England he publishes with Orenda Books.
He has three children, is a cat-lover and lives in Franconia near Nuremberg.