Book Review: Slavonic Dances by Tom Hubbard

Slavonic Dances consists of three novella by Tom Hubbard that meditate in different ways on human traffic between Scotland and East-Central Europe.

Beginning with Mrs Makarowska, the story of a Fife woman who marries a Polish ex-soldier in the days after the end of World War Two and her subsequent friendship with a Scottish aristocrat of Polish ancestry, the story explores the sometimes fraught relationships engendered in wartime and its aftermath and the impact of such experience in our daily lives.

The second of these loosely connected tales, The Kilt, involves a Scottish student studying in Prague at the time of the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968. Kilt-wearing Angus Cooper falls for Hana Jandova and through her and by chance encounters a number of other students caught up in the momentous events of those fleeting times when it seemed dramatic change was possible. Angus is eventually forced to flee the worsening situation in Czechoslovakia without Hana, and despite his best efforts, it is only in the coda to their story that we learn the fates of the characters and the ways in which their lives were changed by the history they lived through.

The Carrying Stream feels as if it is the most autobiographical of the three, replete with literary allusions both Scottish (as in the title itself) and to the wider European literary canon. The central character looks back over a lengthy career in and around academe, mourning the loss not merely of academic posts and those who filled them, but also of a way of looking at the world and serving it that has all but disappeared.

There is much in the way of literary craftsmanship in these contrasting stories, and a deceptive delicacy in their telling. Simplicity of language belies both considerable skill and sensibility in the telling. Hubbard’s poetic abilities, although clearly deployed, never obtrude on his gifts as a storyteller, nor does he lose sight of his central purpose at any point.

Grace Notes is a recent entrant to the Scottish publishing scene, another indicator of its comparative rude health in the face of considerable competition. Slavonic Dances appears to be something of a welcome departure from some of their earlier offerings, and one wishes both they and the author success in the future.

Slavonic Dances, Tom Hubbard, Grace Note Publications, £7.99 ISBN 978-1-907676-89-5