24 February 2022
Cover design © Luke Bird
Front cover image (figure) by Avery Klein at Unsplash
Illustration © CSA images
Arrival is an exploration of the ripple effects of domestic abuse. The story follows a young woman fleeing her home country and trying to rebuild her life, after she has suffered violence at the hands of an alcoholic father.
Prompted by her therapist, the unnamed protagonist starts processing the abuse experienced in her childhood while also pondering what it means to be a mother when consumed by trauma. The novel bends form to accommodate the narrator’s scattered mind and her attempt to assemble a version of herself through fragments and stitches of memories, borrowed conversations and minutiae that linger and haunt.
Infused with love and determination and interwoven with folk tales and rituals, Arrival depicts the ways in which we are resilient, capable of carving our own paths and reimagining our lives.
‘I read Arrival in one rapt gulp, urged on by its unnamed narrator’s need to flee her past, escape the confines of womanhood, and the stains of shame and guilt that keep repeating on her, like heartburn. The novel deals in life’s hard knocks, in trauma and deracination, but in language that is sensual, languid, feline, snaking with double meaning and sly humour. Like an Sigrid Nunez novel, Arrival seems to be about everything, its canvas expanding and contracting, allowing the story’s particulars to echo far and wide.’
Marina Benjamin, author of Insomnia
‘A powerful tale about love, domestic violence, motherhood, escape, and arrival on many levels, written with sensuality and poetic force.’
Naja Marie-Aidt, author of When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back
‘From the opening of Arrival, Nataliya Deleva demonstrates a remarkable talent for conjuring place and moment. It sits the reader beside her unnamed narrator. Whether in the Bulgarian valleys of her childhood or inhabiting the trauma-induced void that’s replaced any semblance of home, we are beside her.’
Harriet Mercer, author of Gargoyles
‘Arrival is a book made up of fragments – fragments of love, motherhood, abuse and marriage – which form an intriguing and moving kaleidoscope narrative. A jagged, beautifully written novel which explores the shattering impact of abuse and how the past shapes the present.’
Sam Mills, author of The Fragments of My Father
‘In her powerful second novel Nataliya Deleva explores the legacy of a childhood scarred by domestic abuse: how the confusion of love with pain creeps into every fragmented shard of adult life, contaminating relationships and complicating motherhood. Through the mythical samodivi she conjures an enduring archetype of the wild rebel female who has escaped, who rejects the ways men control women. There is beauty and tenderness in the creation of her unnamed narrator’s new life, in the poetry of survival and renewal, and in the breaking of patterns for her daughter – freedom from shattering cruelty.’
Venetia Welby, author of Dreamtime
‘Arrival is a story of growth and healing, an unflinching look at the aftermath of growing up in systemic domestic violence. Deleva immerses us into the narrator’s journey of entering motherhood while simultaneously understanding, healing and rebuilding her life. The devastating memories of a lost childhood will not leave the readers unmoved. It hurts to read this book, yet it gives us hope for the resilience of the human spirit. ‘
Katerina Stoykova, author of Second Skin
‘A compelling story about the effects of childhood domestic abuse on adult life: the author’s great gift is to hold us close, to make us see – the kind of honest contact denied so many children in dangerous homes.’
Tanya Shadrick, author of The Cure for Sleep
‘This novel is a stunning achievement. It is a beautiful and moving story about trauma, memory, recovery, displacement and what it means to find a sense of home. An important story told with lucid, heartrendingly precise prose. I will come back to this novel again and again.’
Lucia Osborne-Crowley, author of My Body Keeps Your Secrets
Nataliya’s recommended reading list
ASSEMBLY by Natasha Brown
This is another work of fiction which I read this year and found difficult to put down. It’s a well crafted slim book. The form is as captivating and inventive as it is the narrative: it focuses on the detail, on fragments of conversations, of memories, of seemingly mundane corporate environment events imbued with passive aggression and offensive acts experienced by the narrator, but it also spans over centuries and expands to high concepts as capitalism, colonialism and the historical grounds for racism.
The narrative employs a poetic language with a strong sense of rhythm and depicts masterfully the different manifestations of non-acceptance, of not belonging, of identity clash with societal expectations.
IN THE DREAM HOUSE by Carmen Maria Machado
A poignant account of the abuse suffered at the hands of the person one loves, this memoir is still haunting me, and it’s one of the most important influences on my own writing.
It consists of short chapters, each titled as ‘Dream House as…’ The narrator falls in love with a witty blond Harvard graduate but their bond soon begins to morph into emotional and, at times, physical violence. The passionate at first connection turns into something incomprehensible: the coercive behaviour traps her into a manipulative relationship. Her partner becomes aggressive when Machado doesn’t answer her phone and accuses her of cheating with everyone from friends to her own father. The narrator’s confusion – is this abuse – explores perhaps the most important part of abuse: the grey areas which create uncertainty and often make the victim of abuse question their own agency. The structure of the memoir reflects the shattered memory of a person who had experienced abuse and is trying to recollect their reflection of the traumatic events – this, I’ve experienced myself, is the most honest and truthful way of talking about trauma.
FACES ON THE TIP OF MY TONGUE by Emmanuelle Pagano
This is another book in translation that I find intriguing. It’s a collection of interlinked short stories but it could also be read as a novella made out of vignettes. There is a delicate, almost translucent thread entwined in the narrative which provides hints, takes the reader to the next story, like a children’s game, only to discover a new detail, invisible before. What holds these stories together, are the re-appearing characters: people on the periphery of society. The slow-moving narrative lingers in a moment of time and it’s that ordinariness of the events, the prolonging of the moment that helps the reader find pleasure in moving through the pages.
WHEN DEATH TAKES SOMETHING FROM YOU GIVE IT BACK by Naja Marie Aidt
This is perhaps the most stunning memoirs I’ve ever read: unsettling, intense and beautiful at the same time. The book was originally published in Denmark in 2017, two years after the harrowing event it tries to grapple with: the death of the author’s twenty-five-year-old son in a tragic accident. It tells the story of a mother grieving her lost child through a text that seems broken but somehow perfect in its imperfection as it tries to recount such overwhelming pain. I find the way Naja Marie Aidt narrates trauma captivating—through fragments, borrowed voices, and memories. This book itself creates a meta-text of grief, giving context to all these voices: other writers, poems written by the Naya’s son Carl or by his brother after his death.
GARGOYLES by Harriet Mercer
A beautifully calibrated blend of memoir and essays, this book looks at the female body in relation to pain, chronic illness and loss. It depicts the experience of the female narrator bound to bed for weeks and months, her body engulfed in pain, while her brain tries to process the condition, the constant pain and nausea, and what it means to live with the physical manifestations of the illness. The narrative meanders through her childhood memories evoked by the current events. But these memories are most often disturbing: a recollection of loss and traumatic experiences, like the death of Harriet’s partner, an early sexual assault or losing her father to cancer. These memories come back when the darkness settle as gargoyles.
WHEREABOUTS by Jhumpa Lahiri
A significant fiction book for me this year was Whereabouts. This is the first novel Jhumpa Lahiri writes originally in Italian and then self-translated in English. It was recommended to me by one of the thoughtful booksellers at Bookbar, and it absolutely matched my taste. Lyrical and melancholic, with each short episode – often not longer than a page or two – the unnamed narrator notes down her efforts to locate her place in the world while drifting further way from the urban life.
MOTHERHOOD by Sheila Heti
A poignant account on choice and women’s ambivalence towards motherhood, this work of Sheila Heti was a huge inspiration for me while writing Arrival. Cleverly approached and inventive in form, Motherhood is a thought-provoking read I keep returning to. The narrator is a woman in her late 30s who, throughout the book, asks a yes-or-no question, then throws three coins: two or three heads means yes, two or three tails, no. It might sound unserious and paradoxical, but through this model of exploring the possibilities and choice, the narrator is able to take control over her decision to become or not to become a mother. It’s the process of questioning the gender expectations and inflicted roles, of weighing out the gains and losses of having a child, of comparing the work of the artist with that of a mother that I find most fascinating.
MY BODY KEEPS YOUR SECRETS by Lucia Osborne-Crowley
This is one of the most powerful non-fiction books I read this year is which Lucia voices out the testimony from women and non-binary people about their experience of identity and inflicted shame. A bold, intimate read that explores what it means to live with a chronic illness in a female or non-binary body. An important book that should be read and studied.
AMERICAN FICTIONARY by Dubravka Ugresic
The first book I ever read by Dubravka Ugresic was American Fictionary (which was re-published by Open Letter Books US in 2018) and since then, I’ve been eagerly reading everything she writes. This book is a collection of essays arranged as a sort of dictionary: each essay is titled by an English word and is reflecting on the American culture and everyday life through the eyes of a newcomer, a foreigner who had just lost their country and re-assembling the meaning of self, otherness, identity (or loss of) and disappearance. I found this list form not only fascinating, but also necessary. It serves as imaginary scaffolding for the narrator’s feeling of displacement, her desire to organise, to put things in their place, to define.