Book Bag: ‘Microbursts’ by the Quabbin Writers Salon; ‘The Solace of Trees’ by Robert Madrygin

Published: 12/8/2017 8:59:50 AM

by Steve Pfarrer


Picaflor Press

In October 2014, a bizarre and sudden storm with violent but highly concentrated winds — a microburst — levelled trees and damaged homes along a narrow stretch of Mount Tom and Mountain Road in Easthampton.

Members of the Quabbin Writers Salon, a group of local poets and fiction writers, have used that freak storm as the title for a collection of poetry and prose that examines nature in all its beauty, mystery and unpredictability.

The seven writers, from Amherst, Belchertown, Hadley and Monson, have all previously published poetry or other writing — two, D. Dina Friedman and Eileen P. Kennedy, have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize — or have been involved in writing groups.

In her short poem “Microbursts,” Jane McPhetres Johnson references the Easthampton storm, seeing it as a reminder of just how fragile our hold on the planet ultimately is, as the wind “uproots tall trees / lifts roofs and trucks / flips the switch / gives a nod and / up the chimney we go. Who? / Who knows!”

There are also odes to the changing seasons (“Warm barefoot beach days sing a child’s lullaby”), warnings about the threat of climate
change (“where sounds of August frogs diminish, cicadas / sing less and less”) and a serenade to the setting sun (“As surely as the morning’s sun will follow / the oak is last to kiss the sun goodnight”).

The collection also includes reflections on love, aging and companionship. As Maureen Solomon writes in “Friends,” friendship can be measured in many ways, like a “sharing of space as if you are / standing below my ladder and holding it so / that I will not fall as I reach fo the stars.”

Members of the Quabbin Writers Salon will read from their collection Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at White Square Books in Easthampton.



By Robert Madrygin

New Europe Books

New Europe Books, in Williamstown, publishes fiction and nonfiction from and about Eastern and Central Europe. In “The Solace of Trees,” by Brattleboro, Vermont writer Robert Madrygin, the publisher looks at the fallout from the ethnic wars in the former Yugoslavia.

The central character of Madrygin’s story is Amir, a young Bosnian, Muslim boy, who at the beginning of the novel is hiding in the woods, still in shock after soldiers smashed into his family’s farmhouse the day before.

 It’s not clear how 11-year-old Amir has escaped the violence, but when the boy creeps back into his village, the evidence of what happened is all too clear. Houses have been burnt to the ground, and the corpses of villagers — including all of Amir’s family members — are piled at the side of a road.

Amir falls in with a group of strangers who slowly make their way through forests and fields to a UN camp. Following a long stay there, Amir is evacuated to the U.S., where he’s adopted and raised by a former university professor; he settles into his new life and later goes to college to study film.

But in the wake of 9/11, he faces growing hostility because of his background, and an emotional return visit to Bosnia also brings him to the attention of U.S. security forces, who attempt to link Amir to terrorist activity. That, and the revelation of a long-kept secret about what happened to his family, threatens to upend his life.

Madrygin brings a unique perspective to his story of cultural dislocation and trauma, according to the publisher’s notes: He was raised partly in Japan and partly in the U.S. and lived for a time in foster care because of family problems, including the early death of his mother. This is his first novel.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at










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