I have fond memories of meals eaten at my grandparents’ house, their kitchen table filled with plates of cold meat, salads and bread. My grandmother ate at a snail’s pace, seemingly chewing each mouthful a hundred times. It always annoyed me as we would not be allowed to leave the table until everyone present had finished; all I wanted to do was to get back to whichever novel I currently had my nose in.
It was these memories I returned to as writer Tanya Vavilova read from her debut collection of essays We Are Speaking in Code at April’s UTS Writers’ Salon.
Vavilova’s essays cover themes of desire and obsession, queer identity and migrant experience but, surprisingly, these stories are woven with humour.
Particularly memorable was ‘Privation and Pineapples’ – the essay focuses on her Russian babushka who survived World War II albeit, starving. The significance of food as connection to those we love and to the past was captured poignantly, her young grandmother in war ravaged Moscow secretly eating a spoonful of sour cream to sate her hunger.
Later, Tanya’s grandmother is savagely admonished by her mother when she discovers the ‘theft’, accusing her daughter of being ‘nothing more than a bandit; a thief.’
A very attuned eye for detail, in fact, an eye for those things that we often overlook, the ephemera that surrounds us.
I longed to eat again at my grandmother’s kitchen table after listening to Tanya’s description of not being able to find black radish (a vegetable fed to her by her grandmother) anywhere in Sydney. I am certainly hungry to hear more of Tanya Vavilova’s distinctive voice.
Other highlights of the evening were Dr Eleanor Sweetapple’s reading from her memoir in development showing a very attuned eye for detail, in fact, an eye for those things that we often overlook, the ephemera that surrounds us.
Dr Penni Russon gave a haunting reading from her novel in which the young main character grapples with the loss of her close friend.
Masters’ students Nathan, Mike and Catherine all impressed with their respective pieces, showing that the UTS creative writing program continues to be deserving of its reputation.
Main image of Tanya Vavilova, supplied.