In the Orchard, the Swallows, by Peter Hobbs
This is a brief book, but very compelling. It’s told by an unnamed narrator who as a naïve fourteen year old becomes madly infatuated with the daughter of a powerful politician. The boy first offers the girl a pomegranate from his father’s orchard, and she seems to be flattered and intrigued by his bravery in doing so. Later, he arranges an innocent tryst, where he reminds himself to stop balancing on rocks while he awaits her, because he fears her seeing him playing a child’s game.
Set in Pakistan in what initially seems an ageless time, this novella reveals the arc of their brief and innocent romance. By Western standards, there is no romance, but because this is the only romance of his life, and by the strictness of their cultures, their brief meetings become tragic and heroic When they are discovered together the girl is dragged away and the boy is arrested and thrown in prison, without so much as a charge laid or a word spoken.He literally disappears into his beautiful memories and imaginations of the girl, his only way of surviving the brutality of the prison where he is kept for fifteen years until a bewildering release , wordlessly taken to the gate of the prison, and then shoved out. By this time, although he has sustained himself with the bits of beauty he can remember or see on his occasional moments in the exercise yard, he is a broken man, physically and emotionally.
In the Orchard, the Swallows reads like prose poetry. The writing is spare, but elegant. I wondered how someone named Peter Hobbs could know so much about Pakistani prisons, and the regrets and yearnings of an unfairly incarcerated boy in devastating conditions: I found that the author was travelling through Pakistan when he contracted a debilitating disease that pretty much imprisoned his body for almost as long as the boy’s imprisonment. Hobbs’ descriptions of Pakistani village life, abundance of nature, enjoyment of the icy waters of a glacial stream and the psychology of imprisonment feel sharp and realistic. This novella poetically illustrates beauty despite wanton cruelty, and hope despite fragility. It’s a beautiful read. As far as bibliotherapy goes, it might help someone to focus on the beauty of this sometimes terrible world.