Saturday 13 October 2018

Book Review: The Salt of the Earth by Józef Wittlin (Literary Fiction)

Title: The Salt of the Earth
Author: Józef Wittlin
Pushkin Press

Publication Date: 5 February 2019
eBook - PDF
Literary Fiction
ARC via NetGalley


The villagers of the Carpathian mountains lead a simple life at the beginning of the twentieth century - much as they have always done. They are isolated and remote, and the advances of the outside world have not touched them. Among them - Piotr, a bandy-legged peasant, whose 'entire life involved carrying things'. A notional subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all he wants in life is an official railway cap, a cottage with a mouse-trap and cheese, and a bride with a dowry.

But then the First World War comes to the mountains, and Piotr is drafted into the army. Unwilling, uncomprehending, the bewildered Piotr is forced to fight a war he does not understand - against his national as well as his personal interest.

In a new translation, authorised by the author's daughter, The Salt of the Earth is a strongly pacifist novel inspired by the Odyssey, about the consequences of war on ordinary men.

I found The Salt of the Earth a captivating read. I loved the narrative prose style and adored the characters, especially Piotr. It is a tale with an important message on war, yet it is also a beautifully written story of a man ripped out of his familiar world and tossed into another. It's a shame Wittlin never got to finish the trilogy, as when the book ended I was sad not to know how things would work out for Piotr. Would he make it through the war and get back home? Overall, I would recommend this book to literary fiction readers as it is a wonderful piece of writing that really deserves more attention.

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