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Cert Zibens Marmale (Lightning Strikes the Sea)

1 rating: 5.0
Novel by Laimdota Sele
1 review about Cert Zibens Marmale (Lightning Strikes the...

What Changes Over Time, What Never Needs To Change

  • Dec 15, 2010
  • by
I will declare my bias right here, right now, as much as it stands—I adore the author of this Latvian novel. Laimdota Sēle and I may not be blood sisters, and yet, we are, by another measure, just that—sisters in blood, sharing a common ancestral line, and also kindred spirits, bonded by shared experience and common perspectives on life. We are both Latvian, only Laimdota Sēle was born and still lives in Ventspils, Latvia, while my family has deep roots in this Baltic Sea port city, even while no longer living there. It is a place where I feel at home, and nowhere more so than when I have visited Laimdota in her home there. Some of my happiest memories …

My confession on record, I can now address her newest novel, written in the Latvian language, Cērt Zibens Marmalē, or Lightning Strikes the Sea. Alas, not yet translated into English, and may not be, due to its historic nature and usage of historic language that is impossible to translate accurately. That said, a good book is a good book is a good book. And since this is far from this author's only work, others being far more translatable (and who knows, I may take on one of them myself!), I felt she deserves a larger and brighter stage, one that goes beyond the borders of this small Baltic country.

Sēle is a historian by training, a journalist by experience, and an accomplished poet and novelist. In my interview with her in the Winter 2010-2011 Issue of The Smoking Poet, she speaks about her transition from journalism to creative writing, first with poetry, then increasingly into historic novels, occasionally even taking on time travel themes with a taste of science fiction. Indeed, she is currently at work on the second part of her first novel, Spoguļa Pārbaude (A Test of Mirrors).

Lightning Strikes the Sea is a historical novel, blending 14th century history with a love story that transcends time. The setting is the author's hometown of Ventspils, and to reconstruct it with meticulous accuracy for that time period, she first spent years in research, even participating in archaeological digs, studying artifacts as well as language, culture, lifestyle, cultural norms. Dialogue in the book is from the 14th century, yet clear enough to the contemporary reader to read with ease (glossary included), and earned the author accolades from linguists for its precision.

The scene opens with a youth named Tomass traveling to Wyndow (modern day Ventspils) to seek adventure. He is stunned to see a young woman, typical enough for the time and place, but otherwise extraordinary. Nothing coy about her, she rides a horse with the skill of a man, her lush locks flying freely about her shoulders, her beautiful dress, shorter than most for ease of riding, hung heavy with silver jewelry and nuggets of amber. He is stunned, because most women that he has seen are much more subdued in appearance. Women were considered little short of evil, vehicles of seduction and leading only to a man's downfall, and so limbs were carefully hidden, hair braided or covered, and certainly they did not bound about freely on horseback. Tomass is stricken … with awe that soon turns into love.

No good story is without its conflict and plot twists, and Sēle tosses in plenty as the romance unfolds. There is the fear of being ostracized as a man from foreign lands, of course, and Tomass worries about his reception among his beloved Ralda's family, especially her stern and powerful father, and her village folk. Other plot twists complicate the story, too, as a jealous old knight eyes the young maiden with lust in his eye. There is thievery, murder, deception, and in place of modern day car chases for high adventure—high speed horse races, capes flying in the wind and armor rattling against sword blade.

This is a history lesson at its best; one learns about a country and town more ancient than most in existence today, and does so without sweating the classroom grade. This story is sheer fun, yet a stroll through time, where the eye can hardly take in all the beauty of a period when much was simpler, cleaner, and a man's honor was still his most prized possession.

Sēle is known in her country as someone who weaves irresistible tales, publishing novels in chapters in her local paper that entice readers to ring her up on her telephone, begging for previews of what happens next. God forbid they miss a paper. This novel, however, is one to treasure for history buffs as well as lovers of lush stories, for those who enjoy rich language and those who swoon at blushing romance. It is rare to combine all these elements into one work, but Sēle has done so with success.

Adding to the enjoyment of the book are fine illustrations by the author's son, Ansis Sēlis-Sviriŋš, also a history buff. Each illustration precedes a chapter, a Gothic window opening to the scene about to be revealed in the following lines … each one is worthy of its own frame.

The entire effect is enough to make one want to learn to read Latvian if one doesn't already. For me, the effect was that I found myself wanting to learn more about the history of my ancestors in this same area, one I recently visited and long to visit again. The future opens brightest when we have a sound understanding of that place from whence we came …

Read an interview with author Laimdota Sele in the Winter 2010-2011 Issue of The Smoking Poet at www.thesmokingpoet.com

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December 15, 2010
How very interesting. I know nothing about Latvian culture and history, but my curiosity is piqued now. Thanks for that wonderful review! And I'm sure translating a Latvian novel will put your Latvian to the test! ^_^
December 17, 2010
Thank you! If you are curious to learn more about the author, Laimdota Sele, see photos and my interview with her here: http://www.thesmokingpoet.com/id16.html
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