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Patrin by Theresa Kishkan | edge of evening

He walked me home that evening, and came in to see the quilt. I took it off my bed, into the small living room, and over cups of Earl Grey tea, we looked at each square. I showed him the work I’d done, the new binding sewn over the old, and I showed him how the tiny veins of the leaves in faded gold thread led to brighter gold in protected areas. He told me the names of the leaves in Czech — dubová, the oak; lipa, the linden (though we have a familiar, an affectionate, name for it too, he said; we call it lipky); buková, the beech; and javorovy, the maple. He looked thoughtfully at the squares, the patterns of the leaves within them, and they grey sashing — not straight, as one would expect, but meandering at times, so the the block it led to might have an oblong of linen patched between the leaves and the sashing.

Do you know something? It was not posed as a question but as a discovery. I think this quilt is a map.
Patrin by Theresa Kishkan

One of the unexpected pleasures of writing here is the wonderful people who have stopped by to leave their thoughts in the comments. And of all those lovely commenters, Theresa Kishkan has so often appeared with the perfect encouragement, expressed in the most beautiful way at some moment of hesitation or doubt. Theresa too has three children, all now adults, and her perspective from a little further along the path, has made all the difference at all the right moments. She’s also lead me to others — the journals of Anne Truitt, for example — who have helped her & have now spoken to me.

Another pleasure Theresa has brought me, one that I think blogs and social media are just perfect for, is an appreciation of a place, a history, an ecology, and a rhythm of life that I might otherwise never have come across. For, through her own wonderful blog, I’ve learnt a little of life on the Sechelt Peninsula in British Columbia, just northwest of Vancouver. I’ve also been able to follow the gestation, writing and publication of her latest novella, Patrinwhich arrived through my letter box a couple of weeks ago & was read almost immediately in a couple of blissful afternoons sitting on my bed.

Patrin is an evocative and precise book, with the kind of quiet lyricism that I love. Its short sections cleverly move between the early and late 1970s, and tell the story of Patrin Szkandery, a young woman in her early 20s, who inherits a quilt from her Roma grandmother and gradually feels compelled to find out more about her family’s history.

As Patrin repairs the quilt, it becomes clear that it holds clues to a rich heritage that, as a child who wants simply to fit in, she has previously resisted. Her own name, she finds out, is the Roma word for the clues families left for the fellow travellers — a handful of leaves or twigs tied to a tree. And the quilt comes to be her own signpost to the past. Travelling into communist Czechoslovakia on the trail of her ancestors, Patrin finds herself exploring the boundary between what can be definitely known and what can only be intuited about the past.

Counterpointed with this uncovering of her family’s heritage, is Patrin’s own coming-of-age as a woman and poet. These sections are richly detailed, and familiar in some form to anyone who has ever been young and exploring paths that lead beyond the immediate circles of one’s family. First love, first travels, first steps into writing, are all treated with compassion and a gentle hand. One of the beauties of this novella, is the way in which its sections are so artfully, yet unobtrusively arranged, just as the squares of Patrin’s quilt. The final piece carefully opens up into Patrin’s future, while glancing back into the past.

Patrin is a beautifully meditative, unforced narrative, which gracefully explores the limits of what we can uncover about the past but the effect it can nonetheless exert on our present lives. I’m so happy to have read this book — yet another pleasure that Theresa has brought into my life.


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