"Wither And Blossom" by Suvi Kauppila
Reviewed by Filip Wiltgren
It's always exciting to find a new publication—is it good? Is it great? Is it that special gem you'll come back to over and over again? And when the publication is not just new to you, but new to everyone, as in Samovar's case, then the excitement is double.
Samovar will be publishing one original foreign language story, with English translation, and one foreign language reprint with an original English translation. Meaning that both stories will be eligible for awards in the year they’re published.
Then there's the other side of the coin: if it's new, will it survive? Thankfully, Samovar isn't entirely new. No, it's a quarterly special issue put out by Strange Horizons (which is worth reading in and of itself), so it comes with some big boots to fill.
And fill them it does. The first story, Finnish writer Suvi Kauppila's "Wither And Blossom" is a low-key urban fantasy where two sisters are separated by a childhood death. Set in the Finnish woods, or perhaps an outlying village, the story manages to feel both exotic and quite familiar all at once.
The tone is a marvelous mix of sweet sorrow, myth, and childish innocence. There are also some small references to Finnish history and Arthurian legend, but if you don't catch them, no loss. The story stands fine on its own.
The original version is available on Samovar (if you can read Finnish), and the story is translated by the author and carries a definite Finnish lilt to the prose. Or I might be reading things into Kaupilla's personal style. Either way, it's a delightful read that works on a number of levels.
The second story, "Faces and Thoughts" by Afghanistani-born Abdul wakil Sulamal, isn't quite as accessible to me. The way I read it, it is a mix between Middle Eastern "rich man-poor man" stories and the last half of The Picture of Dorian Gray. The main character (I’m loathe to call him a hero) is a nameless, modern-age, Pashto robber baron with some rather unsavory business habits, and a penchant for brooding about the past.
The story is filled with ethnic (I assume Afghan) flair, fawning servants, and a rags-to-riches robber baron, but there isn't much of a story, that I can see, and the resolution doesn't move me. Perhaps this is because the story is an archetypical “tortured soul” yarn, where a protagonist is beset by demons of his past. It also lacks a speculative element.
On the up side, "Faces and Thoughts" is an interesting view of a different storytelling tradition, a tradition that one rarely sees in this pure a form in the West. Reading the story feels a bit like listening to a traveler from a far-off land, and one has to give praise to translator James Caron for capturing the Eastern slant so fully.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed "Wither and Blossom" and felt that I learned something from "Faces and Thoughts," so thumbs up to Samovar and here's hoping they'll continue for a long, long time to come.