Reviews /

Glowrushes

Authored by Roberto Piumini (translated by Leah Janeczko)
Published by Pushkin Children's Books

Glowrushes: Pushkin Children’s Books have excelled themselves once again in publishing Leah Janeczko’s translation of this Italian gem thus giving English-speaking readers the opportunity to read this memorable and thought-provoking tale. In true fairy tale style this story is set ‘long,long ago’ as a painter, Sakumat, answers a knock on his door from Ganuan’s (Lord of the land of Nactumal) servant. Ganuan promises a horse, and many other material riches in exchange for the painter’s acceptance of his commission, but the text shows that Sakumat concludes the story far richer than he began despite having no more possessions to show for it. This commission is to paint the walls of Ganuan’s son, Madurer’s rooms with ‘pictures and colours’ in order to bring the world into the boy’s life, for he ‘suffers from a strange illness: every trace of sunshine is harmful to him… He cannot go outdoors’ and he cannot even live in a room with a window.

Sakumat, as you may well expect, accepts this unusual request, and the tale, short and poetic as it is, charts the friendship that blossoms between Madurer, Sakumat and, to a certain extent, Ganuan. Sakumat confesses to Ganuan that ‘in the beginning, for many days, my mind remained blank and useless, as though I had never held a brush in my hand or admired and copied the shape of a flower’ but after spending the first days simply playing, looking at books and telling stories with Madurer, the two become ‘absorbed‘ in a ‘joyful work of imagination’. The pages that follow tell not simply of the painting of the walls, but of the love and collaboration between the two, and of the magic and joy of art, imagination and story. Madurer, in contrast to well-known characters from children’s literature who are kept indoors such as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Colin Craven, is a ‘boy who wished to express his happiness and shout it out from every corner of his room.’

This tale is a world away from the stories of Marvel, or most of the books you can grab at the supermarket with a pint of milk, it rejoices in the powers of art for as Sakumet and later, Madurer, paint ‘days passed and mountains were born […] many valleys and peaks, huts and fences, goats that could be seen, cliff sides and ponds with salamanders.’ This is a book to linger in. In terms of plot, relatively little happens, but this is your literary equivalent of sitting at the foot of the mountains, with a hot drink, no Wi-Fi, and acres of time.  For the children in your lives, I think it is one to read with them, one-to-one, or perhaps with a small group, and for those of you who might not have the privilege of this company, read it on your own – if there are no mountain foothills to be had, then a sofa will do. There is sadness and death in this tale, but it is delicately told, and in my mind, there are few better places than in literature, to begin to discuss both the happiness and woes that life brings.