- Published on Amazon.com
What an unusual story! At times I found myself rereading sections trying to follow the plot, and at other times simply because the language was so beautiful. In only 158 small Archipelago pages, the author tells a story that feels large in history and space.
"Whoever has been everywhere and seen everything, last of all should pay a visit to Stitchings. Simply take a seat in a sleigh and, before being overcome by sleep, speed across a plain that's as empty as a blank sheet of paper, boundless as life itself. Sooner of later this someone - perhaps it is a travelling salesman with a valise full of samples - will see great mounds of snow stretching along streets to the four corners of the earth, toward empty, icy expanses. He'll see pillars made of icicles, their snowy caps lost in the dark of a wintry sky. He'll draw into his lungs air as sharp as a razor that cuts feeling away from breath. He'll come to appreciate the benefits of a climate forever unencumbered by restless springtime breezes, by the indolence of summer swelter, or the misty sorrows of autumn. He'll take a liking to frost, which conserves feelings and capital, protecting both from the corruption of decay."
So begins the story of Stitchings, a small town in Poland that could be anywhere but is nowhere. It is mysterious and changing, but with certain signposts that help the reader move through history. In the beginning, Stitchings is occupied by the Swedish, "bearing in mind that a Swedish garrison is better than any Russian, Prussian, or Austrian one, just as a Swedish partition is better than any other possible partition." Historically, Poland is said to have been partitioned three times, by the forenamed powers, although there have been other times when lands were annexed. This fourth partition puts us in a mythical, but familiar place. But Stitchings does not remain fixed in time and space and is subsequently occupied by Germans, then Russians during the World Wars. In addition the topography changes, and Stitchings is later a port city. At times, it is almost always dark, with only a few hours of daylight lasting through the noon meal. By the end of the book, it is almost always light.
As for the plot, it revolves around the families who own the three dominating companies in town. Matches are made and engagements broken, wives are spirited away by outsiders in very mysterious circumstances, and business rivals compete at the expense of others and of the town itself. A doctor reports the death of a woman, yet she refuses to be buried and continues reading French romances. Insomnia, the senselessness of war, and corruption are themes that run throughout. Reading In Red was like reading Gogol, yet with a delicious delicacy of language that is its own. There is so much to talk about in this book, and it definitely deserves a rereading to fully appreciate all that it contains. A truly fascinating read, and I look forward to reading more works by Tulli.
"Whoever wishes to leave Stitchings can avail himself of two methods. If he is an outsider - for example, a traveling salesman of his own virtues, obliged to compete for a favorable market, or a collector of experiences whom life has taught humility - without a second thought he ought to ascend at dawn in a passenger cabin suspended beneath a dirigible balloon. For it's easy to sail among the clouds, where the sun casts its pink rays over the cranes of the port and the docks, over the roofs of the banks, over the stock exchange, over Ludwig Neumann's works producing radio sets, Slotzki & Co.'s sanitary appliance factory, and Loom's munitions plant, whose chimneys send dark smoke curling into the morning sky. If this person wishes before starting preparations for his journey to study the train timetables or the brochures of shipping lines, he'll quickly realize that the desire to leave bears no relation whatsoever to the calendar or the clock. The right moment never comes at any time."