Books

Tasting Sunlight by Ewald Arenz review: Two damaged souls healed by a beautiful bond

Ewald Arenz’s stripped-back prose style wonderfully evokes the women’s characters in the spaces between the words.

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Image: Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

Tasting Sunlight is out now (Orenda)

One of the great joys of reading fiction is getting an insight into cultures and countries different from your own. Broadening your horizons through novels is a simple and easy way to increase empathy for others.

The subtle and sublime Tasting Sunlight is written by German author Ewald Arenz and translated by Rachel Ward. This is Arenz’s first novel to be translated into English, and is already a huge success in his native country.

Tasting Sunlight tells the story of two damaged women, and the friendship and support they find in each other despite their troubles and the external forces working against them. Teenager Sally has run away from an anorexia clinic in the countryside, brimming with anger and anxiety. Liss is in her forties and lives alone on a large farm, trying her best to have no contact with the outside world. When Sally stumbles into Liss’s farm she’s expecting the usual judgemental bullshit from the older woman, but is instead treated with simple respect and acceptance.

Gradually, both women let their guards down and start to form a deep but unspoken friendship although, given their fragility, it’s always at risk of collapse. When the authorities come looking for Sally, the women are forced to act to keep their connection alive.

That brief synopsis doesn’t really do this book justice. It would’ve been easy for a lesser writer to overplay the melodrama in the scenario, to hammer home the message to the reader. But the genius of Tasting Sunshine is in Arenz’s understatement – this is a perfectly balanced story of female companionship, complex and confounding at times, but ultimately inspirational. Arenz’s stripped-back prose style wonderfully evokes the women’s characters in the spaces between the words, and kudos to Rachel Ward for what must’ve been a challenging translation, given the importance of subtext and context throughout.

With its less-is-more style yet profound understanding of human emotion, Tasting Sunlight reminded me of great writers like Kent Haruf and Willy Vlautin, and I honestly can’t give higher praise than that.

Doug Johnstone is a journalist and author

You can buy Tasting Sunlight from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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