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A Rope of Vines Brenda Chamberlain (Parthian, pounds 7.99) A beautiful book and truly worthy of re-publication under the Welsh Assembly Government's inspired Library of Wales series.

Brenda Chamberlain's contemplative account of her life among the peasants on the Greek island of Ydra in the early 1960s is a gorgeous evocation that holds you from the first startling sentence, as Shani Rhys-James points out in a foreword that is resonant with admiration.

Chamberlain had earlier spent some time on Bardsey, but this is a very different world, one of donkeys and mules, praying mantises, cicadas, grasshoppers, armoured beetles, women shouting at the ghosts in the well, and blazing heat.

"Isn't the secret of living to be committed to someone, to something?" she asks as she spends time for a "stocktaking of the spirit" among the nuns living on the island, when she vows to withdraw from the world and pray for her friend Leonidas, imprisoned for - accidentally - killing an English tourist.

"How could I ever cut myself off from the simple things of the earth?" she wonders before she decides to do just that, and it's the simple things - three small girls mocking a boy, a young family with two pack mules, a priest smelling of garlic, the pine forest, "the white hot wilderness of thistle, stone and derelict wheat terrace" - that she notices in this evocation of human existence enlivened by her delightful drawings.

The book concludes as memorably as it begins: "We invent our own lives, but there remains reality outside oneself, and these enduring boats, laden with melons and water pots, green peppers, and cattle, point the way to life through abundant dying." This is a true classic of modern Welsh writing by an outstanding artist, poet and writer..
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 25, 2009
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