Remembering the first novel I read — Konsalik’s Natalia

I was recently thinking about how I love to find out about, and dig up little-known books. I get a rush from it, sorta like I’m discovering a treasure; which they are; treasures of forgotten and/or little-known stories!

I then found myself thinking about the first novel I recall reading, which in some ways may be part of that category of little-known books, at least depending on where you live. This book in question is by German author Heinz G. Konsalik, titled Natalia (French edition).

I was quite young, not even ten yet, growing up in Brussels and found this book among my mom’s collection. I don’t know how she came about it, but given her German background, she was likely already familiar with the author’s long list of literary achievements. (My parents also did briefly have a spiritual bookstore in 80’s Brussels, which I wrote about in my short story collection, but this novel wouldn’t have been sold there.)

Aside from the title—reminiscent of my own name—I remember being struck by the cover and the attractive, femme-fatale like woman featured on it. Reading the synopsis quickly lured me, and which, translated to English, reads something like:

“Even in the era of the sputnik, the infinite Siberian taiga forest remains largely unknown. Dangerous. Just about inaccessible to “outsiders.” It’s another world, filled with sometimes horrible legends…

Here we are in the taiga, in the village of Sadovka where strange characters live, such as the priest Tigran or the widow Anastasia Alexeievna… In the heart of the village, a house remains shut, uninhabited. And when the engineer Tassbug, arriving from the city, wants to rent it, Anastasia tells him that it’s impossible, because for nearly two centuries frightening, supernatural things have been happening there…

Throwing caution to the wind, Tassburg enters the premises. He’ll be greatly surprised to find there a proud and wild young woman: Natalia. She’s run across the taiga, tracked down by the brutal Kassougai, who passes her off as a murderer. And now she’s hiding… But is it really Natalia whom Tassburg has in front of him? Or is it not the ghost of the one who was killed there long ago, the countess Albina Igorevna?

Konsalik’s new novel brings us to one of the famous writer’s favorite locations: the dark and mysterious taiga. In this setting, a fabulous adventure, perils, enigmas, intersect to the reader’s great delight. And the moving face of Natalia, the beautiful heroine who attempts to escape all fate’s evil designs, remains unforgettable.”

I guess it was meant to be because it felt right up my alley, and I gladly dived in!

^French book synopsis

Of course, I can’t say that this was the actual *first* book I read. After all, by then I’d already read quite some popular Belgian comics, not to mention all the animal books and baby books that had come my way… But this is definitely the first novel I read, and I do recall a sense of a ‘rite of passage,’ and feeling grown up at the thought of graduating to this kind of ‘adult’ genre. It was several hundred pages after all, and no images, haha! 😀 What might’ve looked intimidating quickly proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, encompassing adventure, paranormal themes, and romance topped with a strong—if wounded—heroine.

It’s interesting that up to that point I didn’t have anything to compare it to, so there was something about this type of story that interested me. I’m not against the view that I may have been energetically picking up on its themes, long before I knew anything about these things (after all, children are naturally sensitive if often unaware of that ability to ‘sense’ things; a trait which we may unfortunately suppress and/or ignore as we get older).

In retrospect, it’s easy for me to see that reading this book may have—at least in some ways— influenced my subsequent tastes in books. I’ve realized a while ago that some of the stories I tended to be drawn to involved a combination of strong women… and rather dramatic / sad narratives. Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and Flaubert’s Salammbo are a few that come to mind. This was a bit of a revelation to me, since the drawing point for me wasn’t the sadness per se; perhaps I was looking for something bigger to come out of that, and which I suppose perhaps I found, if subconsciously, while reading the stories. It’s not that I ‘liked’ sad endings—I rather love happy ones!—but I suppose part of me did feel that the sadness made the stories a bit more ‘real,’ for who can go through life without hardships? Or maybe it was seeing characters go through these things and still come out fine (at least at times?) that fascinated me… Like most things, there are likely multiple, complex reasons for my early interest in such narratives.

Interestingly enough, Natalia differs from these stated examples as it doesn’t really have a ‘sad’ ending, but definitely has its fair share of drama and intensity. All the same, I’ve never forgotten it and only wished the story was more well-known and accessible…

Which eventually led me to wondering if the book had been translated to English. For a long time, it appeared that it was only available in German and French. I contacted the publisher, who eventually replied with a link to the English version, titled “The Damned of the Taiga.” This struck me as odd, for it doesn’t really seem to fit with the story (it could in some ways, but still, why not just preserve the original name?). By now I have reasons to doubt this is accurate info, in part due to the original German titles. Natalia‘s original German title is Natalia, ein mädchen aus der taiga (which would read more like Natalia, a girl from the taiga, and which in French at least preserves the same Natalia name). So cue in my surprise to see there’s an actual German Konsalik novel titled, Die Verdammten der Taiga, literally translated to The Condemned / Damned of the Taiga… ?! This seems to point to the fact that they’re distinct novels, albeit set in a similar location; therefore making it possible that Natalia still hasn’t been translated to English… And I definitely think it should be! (Shall I volunteer for the role?! 😀 )

Also, as is the case with many great stories, I never stopped thinking what a great movie it would make. Of course filmmaking is a different medium, and while it wouldn’t be exactly like the book, it’d be another way of enjoying the story 🙂 (An NY Times article states that “The Damned of the Taiga” was made into one, but even then I’ve yet to find anymore information on that.)

Thoughts on Easter fasting

Being that Orthodox Lent is approaching (and Catholic Lent season has already started), I find myself contemplating the subject of Easter fasting.

Last year (2015) marked the third time that I completed the Easter fasting for Lent. For Christians, Lent refers to the period of 40 days prior to Easter, during which you restrict yourself from various pleasures—be they dietary and/or lifestyle—with the intent of purifying yourself and turning to God as we recall the ordeal Jesus went through for us. I find that it can serve as both an intense and rewarding learning experience, provided you approach it with the right set of mind (and isn’t that true of everything in life! 😉 )

Doing the actual fasting usually means not having any meat or dairy for that time period, which basically leaves you vegan. With that said, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that the various church specifics of Christian fasting can vary. For instance, the Catholic fasting may differ from the Orthodox fasting… and even the Orthodox churches themselves (Greek, Russian, etc.) may each do things their own way! For example, some allow fish 1-2 times during the Lent period; others say it’s ideal to do a total fast (aka no eating at all) on Good Friday, and maybe have some fruits and wine on Saturday… and so on, and so forth. So if things seem confusing—and inconsistent—on that front, it’s because they are!

Continue reading

“Twisted Reflections” Goodreads Giveaway – Thank You!

The first Goodreads Giveaway for my short story collection “Twisted Reflections” has ended and the 12 winners announced! Books have been shipped out and are on their way 😀

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO ENTERED! If you’ve added the book to your to-read shelf, you’ll be notified whenever there’s another giveaway. There’ll be another one soon for both national and international entrants 🙂

Want your own copy now? Get it here!

Twisted Reflections - Natacha Pavlov

“Twisted Reflections” short story collection now available :)

Happy 2016 everyone!

I’m excited to announce that my short story collection “Twisted Reflections” is now available!

http://www.natachapavlov.com/twisted-reflections

There’ll also be a Goodreads giveaway for the book that starts Friday January 15th!! 🙂

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28459900-twisted-reflections

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Twisted Reflections by Natacha Pavlov

Twisted Reflections

by Natacha Pavlov

Giveaway ends February 14, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Cheers to the new year and beyond!! ❤

TR_NatachaPavlov

Why the French culture isn’t THAT romantic (assuming it is at all)

Full disclosure: I’ve always felt it was cliché and exaggerated for people to think of the French and French culture as romantic. Naturally, as with everything else, that’s a term that’s subjective, but I think we tend to have a general idea of what that means. I mean, some things may be, but technically any culture can be seen that way depending on how you look at it. I often encounter people who want me to speak French (my first language) because they think it’s a beautiful language, and in a way, I guess it might be. But mostly—maybe because I don’t know what it’s like not to understand French—I am also somewhat puzzled by it. Maybe it’s the slight accent they’re referring to? I’ve noticed Americans can be quite keen on them (but once again, can also depend on the kind of accent you might have). And why do some languages fascinate us more than others? I’ve always wished I could speak Arabic because that’s a language no one would expect me to speak and mostly because it’s so… ancient. 🙂 (I’m a Capricorn with a penchant for dated thangs… 😉 )

Continue reading

On 8/15/15 in various parts of France, Catholic church bells to ring for Middle East Christians

As stated by a French Facebook group called AraMic TV, in about a day (technically even less if in Europe), Catholic church bells will be ringing in France for Middle East Christians. I appreciate this show of support, and truly wish the US churches—and other countries’ as well—would get ON IT stat and do the same!!

Check out the event page, although I note it is in French: https://www.facebook.com/lesclochesdeFrance

The map below shows the dioceses that are participating (in purple). The list is growing, which already includes other countries like Spain, Canada, Iceland, and Switzerland.

 

 

80s – 90s Soundtrack to my Belgian childhood

In the midst of writing some of my “Twisted Reflections” short stories based on my childhood growing up in Brussels, Belgium, it quickly got me thinking about the tunes that essentially made up the soundtrack of my earlier years.

After serious time spent down memory lane, what ensues is this list of 60 songs—mostly covering popular tunes (and sometimes older ones that made an impact) during my years spent in Brussels from 1985 – 1996.

These are a combination of tracks based on what I remember most and songs / artists I liked. Made up mostly of European and American musicians, I can now easily spot the significant dance influence… Haha, memories! 😀   Continue reading