“Strata” by Kathleen Jamie: the comings and goings of time


by Kathleen Jamie

Translated from English (Scotland) by Ghislain Bareau

La Baconnière, 234 p., € 20

It had been reluctantly left last year, watching northern gannets on the edge of a cliff in the Shetland Islands or intrigued by whale skeletons hanging in the Bergen Museum of Natural History in Norway. Overview (La Baconnière) was the second book translated into French by the Scottish writer (1). Composed of fourteen autobiographical accounts, the work celebrated a secret communion with the natural world.

We find with equal pleasure this new collection of short stories by Kathleen Jamie because we already know that a surprising journey awaits us, that we just have to let ourselves be carried away by the accuracy of his words, the haunting music of the stories that this brilliant storyteller unfolds for us. His often, mixed with that of other men and women who, for some, lived thousands of years ago … Because time “Contracts and expands” under her peaceful pen, offering her assumed bridges that she delicately poses across the ages, erasing distances, making a dialogue between peoples possible.

Innuendo in the life of a Yupik village

In Quinhagak, Alaska, the author insinuates herself into the life of a village populated by Yupiks, in the heart of a landscape more aquatic than terrestrial, “A visual paradox”. These people, related to the Inuit, live torn between a modernity that gently destroys them and the tenuous memory of their ancestors. She wishes them to have snow the next winter and to reclaim the memory of their land… On the island of Westray, in Scotland, a Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement site will soon close for lack of credits. However, small treasures had been unearthed there, bone staples, flint or stone tools … and a tiny sandstone figurine, “Wise and discreet”, the oldest human representation in the UK, 5,000 years old. “Do we want to know where we came from as we move into the future? “, she wonders while contemplating The Westray Woman.

When she says “I” rather than “you”, she gives her intimacy a little more to read. As on this trip to the borders of Tibet, in the city of Xiahe, which she undertook to escape a disastrous marriage. In the background, fleeting glimpses of great history, the sounds of Chinese repression. Then years later in Scotland, as she stands with her father on the brink of death, the memory of her mother and grandmother Nana is evident. We see them both immortalized in a photo, smiling, slender, elegant… Because photos, softened by black and white, of described objects, of landscapes surveyed, of loved ones irrigate these stories and embody them delicately. At the edge of poetry and history, storytelling and archeology, the singular universe of Kathleen Jamie emerges.


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