Picture this: I’m lounging by a hotel pool under blue skies in Corfu, enjoying my holiday in the sun. And I’m crying. I’m crying because I’m finishing up the final pages of Senka Marić’s transformative Body Kintsugi and I myself feel a little broken and put back together again.
Perhaps not the most auspicious choice for a beach holiday read, Body Kintsugi, translated from the Bosnian by Celia Hawkesworth, is a short, sharp immersion into the journey of illness and health of the protagonist as she discovers and goes through treatment for breast cancer – a discovery she has been dreading and expecting her whole life.
Written in the second person, Body Kintsugi is quite alarming in its directness. Who is the ‘you’ the narrator refers to? It feels raw and affronting to be referred to in this way for the entirety of a short novel. It also feels extremely personal and you get the feeling that while Marić speaks directly to the reader, she’s also speaking to/about another version of herself. Although it takes a moment to get used to, I really enjoyed this unusual second person narrative which draws you into its arms until you’re not quite sure if it’s yourself or someone else going through all this pain.
And the thing is – Marić doesn’t shy away from the pain in this book. Quite simply, it hurts to read this book, to even begin to imagine the physical and emotional pain of the protagonist as she goes through multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, each time hoping to get better but ultimately finding herself worse.
It’s exhausting to just read of the physical transition, to witness the unflinching torment of it, the acceptance of death and the perseverance of life. At times the description of the pain is medical and unintelligible to most. At other times it’s described in the simplest of forms, with no room for frill or flounce. It is pain at its most base level. Omnipresent. All-encompassing. I’ve not read prose that does it quite like it.
There’s a real sense of fate in this book; the idea that the narrator has been waiting for this illness from childhood, especially with the health issues and complications running through the matriarchal line of her family. And perhaps this sense of fate is how the protagonist is able to bear and get through the unspeakable and indescribable trials of her body. Because this book is also about recovery. It’s about how to keep going, to go through and beyond. And that is why I cried at the end – because of the humanity and optimism at the centre of this book.
If you want something both life and death-affirming, simultaneously painful and beautiful, I couldn’t recommend Body Kintsugi enough.
Body Kintsugi by Senka Marić (translated by Celie Hawkesworth) is published by the wonderful Peirene Press and available to buy now. Thanks to the folks at Peirene Press for sending me a review copy and I love the publisher’s recent re-brand.