Home is Nearby (Impress Books 2017), by Magdalena McGuire, is an impressive debut novel about belonging, home, art, relationships, culture and family, all set against the social, political and economic Polish crisis of the 1980’s.
Ania leaves her country town for university life in the city of Wroclaw where she hopes to pursue her dream of becoming a sculptor. She falls in with a group of bohemian artists, painters and writers, and together their activities push back against the regime. Ania and her boyfriend, Dominik, an up and coming activist and journalist, and their avant-garde friends, hold wild parties and create controversial art in the midst of curfews, military rule, visa restrictions and other controls imposed by the authoritarian communist government.
The story is set both in Wroclaw and in the Polish countryside, where Ania’s widowed father lives, carving headstones for the local deceased. Some of the most beautiful passages in the book are the descriptions of the isolated community and the small-town mentality of its residents. The narrative then moves to London and also to Australia, and I think I enjoyed the latter section of the novel the most, as it explored Ania’s journey – both physical and metaphorical – to find herself and her place in the world.
This is a book that teaches much of a regime about which many of us probably know little; the privations and struggles, the violence and human rights abuses that we cannot even imagine. In this way, we learn something important about history. Ania is a strong character, and her desires, ambitions and sacrifices demonstrate her flaws and foibles as well as her determination and resilience. She is not afraid to make a mistake, and to admit when she has been wrong.
The novel presents the sense of art as a calling and a vocation, and examines how our social sensibilities form our creativity.