“Sal” by Mick Kitson

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“Sal” is a harsh, funny and horrifying story about survival in the forest, about murder, about trauma and the present, absolutely not sugar, childhood. In short, the book that children read is also not forbidden, but, as they say, under parental responsibility.

At first, “Sal” seems like a modernized version of “Two Little Savages” by Ernest Thompson Seton: two sisters, thirteen-year-old Sal and ten-year-old Peppa (salt and pepper, as their mother calls for), together without adults, live in the middle of a national park somewhere in the Scottish wilderness. Sal had thoroughly prepared herself for escaping from civilization: she had reviewed all the videos on YouTube, and now she can put snares on rabbits, fish, make a fire and build a tent from tarpaulin, paracord and spruce branches. And the sisters also have an air rifle (you can shoot a partridge with some luck), a supply of biscuits, tea bags, a teapot and a warm sleeping bag, in which you will not freeze even if it is snowing outside.

Outing to the next village for groceries and news (half a day there, half a day back), successful hunting and processing of rabbit skin (by winter it will make an excellent hat), a morning meeting with a deer, rebuilding a tent, rabbit on a hot stone, pike bites are dangerous, but not fatal, acquaintance with an eccentric neighbor – an elderly German Ingrid, who also settled in the reserve.

However, little by little through all this bright romance of life in the lap of nature, memories start to hurt, and soon the reader realizes what the girls ran into the forest and why they cannot and should return to people at the same time. The answer will be simple: behind the courageous trappers Sal and Peppa lies a compact hell of family violence, and this story is not over yet, and the present life in the forest is an interlude, nothing more.

In retelling it may seem that “Sal” is another important and relevant book about trauma and its overcoming, under the weight of which the shelves of bookstores recently pop and sag. This is partly true, of course. However, the important difference between the book of Mick Kitson and the legion of its kind is that there is not a single gram of sentimentality and desire to dig deeper into your own wounds.

“I do not understand why everyone is so worn with their feelings. What is the point? What matters is what you know and can do” Sal proclaims, and this statement of hers is not empty bravado: she really does not see the point of fixing on the past. It is much more important for her that the lousy situation in which they and Peppa are pleased is resolved as soon as possible, so that they can stay together and that their mom will also somehow have everything.

The author’s optics in this sense completely coincides with the optics of the heroine: both Kitson and Sal do not look back, but forward, both of them are more interested in what will be further than what has already happened. The trauma is ugly, there is nothing to admire, and the sooner you get out of it, the better – something like this, if very briefly, you can formulate the general message “Sal”. And he, with all his perpendicularity to the main agenda, sounds encouraging and optimistic.

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