Death Customs by Constantia Soteriou (tr. Lina Protopapa)

a nutshell: this is a mystical, soulful dialogue (of sorts) between a chorus of women’s voices and a widow narrating what it was like to await the return of men – dead or alive – who fought in the conflict that followed the 1974 coup d’état

a line: “Tell me, Spasoula, are there people who are forever lost? People nobody will ever find? And how are they going to call the lost that are lost? Are there words to describe the lost who will not be found?”

an image: the author reimagine the mass burials that saw Turkish and Greek men buried on top of one another them as ultimately kindling friendship – when the rains inevitably came, they filled the wells and gathered the bones together in harmony

a thought: despite the agony of abandonment and grief, the narrator ends with a tacit call for reconciliation and solidarity between the women who waited – whatever their background; I found this story fascinating, especially the way in which Soteriou weaved in so many Cypriot folklore/rituals around birth and death

a fact: this story (deservedly!) won the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

want to read Death Customs? visit here

Now and at the Hour of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques (tr. Julia Sanches)

a nutshell: in rural north-eastern Portugal, alongside a palliative care team, Moreira Marques meets families as they face up to losing a loved one – recording their emotions and histories

a line: “Grass as tall as children, on the roadside, dancing. In the horizon, hills meeting like lovers. All this in the deepest purple, seconds after the sun sets.”

an image: one conversation in which a daughter recounts long, lonely drives to visit her bedridden father had me in tears – particularly when she berates herself for things left unsaid

a thought: I was also strongly moved by the value that Moreira Marques attaches to not leaving history to be written ‘by the rich’, leading her to sit until sunset with an elderly couple, Senhor João and Senhora Maria, so they could speak tenderly of all they had lived as well as to speak of death

a fact: to write this the author travelled to Trás-os-Montes – which translates as ‘Behind the Mountains’ – and among the individuals she gets to know are several with strikingly self-sufficient lifestyles, growing their own produce both here and during their past in colonised Angola


want to read Now and at the Hour of Our Death? visit here