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Wanda’s Jigsaw By Marta Gergely (Arena Books)

Last update - Monday, July 1, 2013, 14:47 By Ifedinma Dimbo

When a book is said to be aimed at celebrating women, it raises my curiosity because I like reading about such things.

It offers me the avenue to ventilate, to throw logic around and sometimes even to get annoyed. The annoyance derives from the fact that in recent times, it seems that impropriety has at times been reduced as a binary to feminism. So I read Wanda’s Jigsaw, and I must say that as far as celebrating women is concerned, perhaps it has its points.

Growing up under the cloak of communism in 1980s Czechoslovakia, Wanda is a beautiful, intelligent girl who falls pregnant and gives birth just as she finishes the equivalent of her country’s Leaving Cert. She is lucky in the sense that she goes straight into further study at a nearby university while being a hands-on mum. 

On the other hand, she is not so lucky, due to life’s mounting pressures – including her mother forcing her to ‘accept’ giving up her daughter for adoption. From here onwards, Wanda flies solo in her studies, and ends up as a lecturer at Cambridge University.

Wanda was hurt and at a young age, too, which perhaps gave her the strength to pursue her dreams, to eschew all ties and become so hardened and single minded? Well, I am still processing this.

Galway-based Marta Gergely does a good job of reminding us that perseverance pays more often than not, especially when all odds seem to be stacked against you. Readers are also given a glimpse into what life was for ordinary people in a communist society, capturing that longing to experience freedom that was supposedly resplendent in the west.

However, the books’ storyline is not given enough to deliver. The narrative is pared down so much that it’s skeletal. So many promises and hints that could have made the juices of the story flow are shed while some, though still there, are not followed through. Sayings are dumped all over the place, with stories then woven around them to suit. Reading this was a frustrating experience. But perhaps it is me: I love convoluted and robust stories, not hints.


‘It’s lonely at the top,’ so the saying goes, and at the apex of her rise Wanda does relent and start searching for other meanings in life, which makes her almost human. Readers perhaps may sigh with relief at the end that everything eventually works out for her. But I kept thinking that there was a piece missing from Wanda’s Jigsaw, even if I could not really tell what that was.

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