The House With The Stained-Glass Window by Żanna Słoniowska and translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones is undeniably a phenomenal piece of literary fiction.
Słoniowska’s narrative focuses on a nameless protagonist and her experience growing up in Lviv, Ukraine throughout war and civil unrest. The protagonist’s story line is not linear – we learn more as she delves back into the past as memories are evoked in the present. Her experience of Lviv hinges on the moment her Mama, Marianna was shot and how she tries to reconcile her mother’s fight for justice with her own love of the city in which she was born.
This discovery is intertwined in her relationship with Mykola – her own mother’s former lover – and her strained relationships with her Great-Granma and her Granma, Aba. Słoniowska artfully illustrates how identity is founded on our call and response to others. Sloniowska’s protagonist is shaped by her Great-Granma’s heartache, her Aba’s rheumatism, her Mama’s mezzo soprano voice, by the stories of Lviv Mykola tells as they traverse the city, and by her adoration of the stained-glass window in her apartment building. She is more than a student of art – she is a student of people, the city and its open wounds, and of herself.
Overall, the writing is simply enchanting. I was captivated from beginning to end and feel as if I have become acquainted with a place, it’s beautiful and brutal history and the people it has born.