Sunday, August 28, 2022

Such a lovely place... can you ever leave?

Frome, it seems, is one of those places like the Hotel California where you can check out but you can never leave, but due to, as they say, beyond my control, this week's bulletin snapshots are gleaned largely from online notifications. 

A double book launch event at Hunting Raven Bookshop on Friday celebrated Nina Parminter's collection Split Twist Apocalypse and the wonderfully bizarre Wasp Disentanglement for Beginners from Xenon Lobster - aka Gorden Vells. I have yet to acquire Nina's but Gordon's boundary-leaping collection is simply brilliant - 'Trails' is a tiny taster. 

(Thanks Dianne Preston for the nicked pic of the event.)

Also reportedly a great night again at Guggleton Arts Open Mic on Thursday - always a brilliant party-style event, this session including two of my favourite performers: Leon Sea, and 'Twitch' - both here as snapped at that venue earlier this summer:

Meanwhile, great news from elsewhere about some of the incredible dramatic & lyrical creatives stars of Frome:  

Black Hound Productions, the innovative young dramatic company, enthusiastically reviewed in this blog for several productions, has taken their double bill (see July 24) to Edinburgh and collared a massive 5 star review rating for Seeds of Memories

And moving to off-the-scale fantastic,  Frome's poetic ambassadress Liv Torc with fellow 'hot poet' Chris Redmond spent last week in Botswana, brainstorming with the UNFCCC - yes folks, that's the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Her online reports are amazing: here's a taster to read & re-read with awe & hope: "We are in a giant conference centre / palace - where we spend all day with 50 other incredible people from around the world doing exercises and brainstorming come up with totally new ‘there is no box’ ideas for a better more resilient world in the face of climate change. We are scientists, futurists, architects, AI creators, zen masters, royals, indigenous knowledge experts, diplomats, economists, city planners, agriculturalist, artists etc. We use a lot of post-it’s."  And it's pretty fair to say that if anyone can save the world with post-it notes, Liv can.

No apologies for concluding, despite planetary stress, on a very happy personal note: Pete Gage, superb poet & musician and friend, has sent me this delightful message: "Crysse, I have just finished reading Blow-Ins. My God Crysse, I love so many things about it, not least your amazing descriptive style and use of words/vocabulary, so uniquely put together and so colourfully conveyed, but also your ability to convey the emotions and thoughts of the characters so sensitively and insightfully. It was as though I was there in all those interactions, a silent invisible member of the family in touch with it all up to the end of your brilliant novel. All i can say, is wow! xxxx Naturally I purred like a rescued kitten, and asked if I could quote this, but Pete had also prepared a more orderly and even more awesome review, which is now on the Blow-Ins FB page here.

And this week's footnote will be my final one for MY BLOG, which began, incredibly, 16 years ago in September 2006. At that time, my writer's life was taking me around the country & around the world too, from Thailand to Chile - with Greek Islands in between, working with writers as well as performing poetry and promoting drama. The first post explains: "I thought a blog would be a great way of celebrating the wonderful variety of things I'm lucky enough to be doing... based on Jack Kerouak's 'list of essentials.' Something that will find its own form. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.  Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it."
MY BLOG has morphed, gradually, into a diarist's eye on artsy Frome, mostly, and as an addictive writer with a poor memory, it has given me massive pleasure over the changing years. Frome is in a state of flux right now (what - again? yes, as always) with the development of Saxonvale still unsettled despite the fantastic work of the Mayday team with massive support from the town; development is encroaching from the South, Marston Park is struggling, and shops are closing (sadly including much-loved Amica, owned by painter David Moss who created my last two book covers.) Frome will somehow survive, of course, and hopefully thrive - and who knows, maybe re-assert its belligerent history of protest at imposed change... but if not, it will still have its fantastic art, music, and drama. So ending this blog-story of Frome as centre of a creative universe feels a bit like the end of Winnie the Pooh: "whatever happens, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

Monday, August 22, 2022

Early Autumn: Vivid art & vibrant music for greyer days

With the wonderful Berry Bus going direct to Hammersmith from Frome for less than the cost of a pair of posh candles, days out in London are accessible as well as great fun for a capital-culture fix. This week my focus was art: The Procession at Tate Britain, a long and extraordinary historic cavalcade of all the cultures involved in the iniquitous sugar trade, created by Hew Locke.  The Tate galleries were built by that family from their exploitative wealth built on the labour of African people and their descendants, subsequently relying on the indentured labour of Asian people. The information on display quotes Locke's intention also to 'make links with the after-effects of the sugar business' so there's an enormous range of figures in this mesmeric procession.  (Guardian review here.) It really is extraordinary: beautiful and provocative, and showing until 22 January so do consider going...
As a footnote, it's a good thing the exhibition was so stunning, as the heavens opened torrentially in the afternoon...not sure I've recovered! So here's a picture from a dryer day : a family walk to Nunney.

Autumn seems to be arriving early here: lords & ladies have been glinting through the trees for over a month now, blackberries & other hedge fruit are ripe, while beech nuts & even conkers are falling and lots of trees are turning gold. Apparently, sadly this is a 'false autumn' caused by stress on trees on foliage by the drought. It's all explained here but, like most of what's happening these days, makes grim reading.

Some excellent news for Frome now: the Mayday Saxonvale team have finally succeeded in gaining acceptance, in principle, for their plan to develop this contested site in the heart of town, despite opposition from an alternative project which would in no way suit the ethos of our town. This not-for-profit social enterprise has been favoured by Frome residents from the start, and its fantastic that the immense hard work done by its originators and directors has won - with over 1,300 letters of support from local residents. This is not my photo - it's nicked from the Mayday facebook page, but speaks for all of us!

Music now: 'The Gugg' Open Mic at Guggleton Farm Arts did its usual thing on Thursdat: great live music, free, in a convivial atmosphere. There's always a mix of ages and music styles: this is Greg, reminding us you can't always get what you want, among other 60s & 70s classics.

And a final camping session of the year, at a private festival deep in Exmoor, with fabulous views as well as an amazingly sophisticated performance area, concludes this week: Campfire, bar, and great bands - here's the impressive finale of Rosco Shakes' set, and the extraordinary David Smale, creating psychedelic sounds not only on guitar but also & simultaneously by toe control, on keyboard.  Unforgettable.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The hot, late, one - with bonus supermoon

Avid followers of this blog, who've probably been sighing 'it cometh not' like Tennyson's Marianna mooning around mossy flowerpots, will have noted a week's delay in this bulletin. This is because last week's planned highlight, Folksy Theatre's Much Ado About Nothing on Frome's ECOS last Sunday, was sadly cancelled due to a vehicle crash, and the blog felt a bit thin without dramatic focus. So instead here's a bumper sunshine special with a music focus.  

As the warm dry evenings continue, the Thursday sessions of Open Mic at the Gugg in Stalbridge are increasingly popular. With fresh-made pizza on site and 3 hours of live performance free (though donations to this community project are encouraged) it's not surprising every seat in the courtyard is filled. The last two sessions provided the usual wide-ranging variety of sets and some stella performers. Here's Nick Coleman last week, powerfully recreating 60's songs Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson and Del Shannon's Runnaway. And here, from this week, is Frome's Carl Sutterby who wowed the crowd with hi-energy classic punk ( Babylon's Burning specially smashing) played on ukulele. 
Among other highlights for me in this latest event were the Beagles playing Lindisfarne's Mr Dreamseller, and I still believe from 'Twitch'.

In Frome, despite the annual exodus to Boomtown & other festivals, the pubs have been throbbing with music. Last Sunday saw a Jazz Jam at the Cornerhouse, a session of fearsome talent and unrehearsed splendour.  This is a totally inclusive night, with musicians from local funk bands playing alongside trad jazz aficionados, and numbers ranging from Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock. 

A different musical mood, though still just as hot, on Saturday when Unit 4 fulfilled their pledge to make it funky  at The Sun, 

and on Sunday we enjoyed the return to Bar Lotte of mega-popular Rosco Shakes with their 'jump jazz' versions of blues classics.


There's some great visual art around, too: Bath's Victoria Gallery has an exhibition of work by Mary Feddon, showing until mid-October.  'Simple Pleasures' is a celebration of the work of this artist originally from Bristol who painted still life and flowers with a delightful quirky style until her death in 2012. The show is beautifully curated, and includes some work from her husband, fellow-artist Julian Trevelyan.

Frome's Black Swan Arts gallery is still buzzing with interest in the Arts Open Exhibition, where 185 selected submissions now fill the Long Gallery, the Round Tower, and the shop too - all for sale, though quite a few have now been taken. Sadly I missed the judges' talk on criteria & judging process, but 'Writers at the Black Swan', our regular ekphrastic poetry group, enjoyed exploring the works in thoughts & words on Monday. Thanks Jane Hughes tor this snap of us waxing lyrical.

The first Sunday in the month always brings the Frome Independent, a wonderful chance to wander through stalls in the car-free streets, enjoying the market atmosphere & street food, especially under the azure skies we've had for several weeks now. I did a bit of onstreet-sales myself, outside Hunting Raven Books, inspired by some great reviews sent me about my new novel Blow-Ins. You can hear more about the book, and how it came to be written, in this week's Variations on a Theme, the regular mixed-bag-culture show of Eleanor Talbot which you can listen to online as broadcast on Frome FM. My interview starts at 1.23.50, but the eclectic music on Eleanor's shows is always great!

Final footnote goes to the weather: love it (I do) or worry about it (as we all probably do, for -literally- existential reasons) this fortnight has brought solid sunshine and cloudless azure skies to Frome. Our grassy meadows are turning to straw and our river is become drying sludge in many places, so to end here's a typical image from my walks this week: Whatcombe fields, on the edge of town.  Rain, apparently, is due soon....


Monday, August 01, 2022

Much Ado about lots

This week's bulging bulletin begins with a trip to London's South Bank for a National Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing - the final splurge of a gift-token from son2 last year. Directed by Simon Godwin with a lavish two-storey set designed by Anna Fleischle & Evie Gurney's amazing rag-time era costumes, this seemed at first a bit too 'Post-Modern Jukebox meets Hi-Di-Hi' for dark themes of betrayal and redemption but, after a frivolous start, it steered its way into a lively, funny, clever production.  Much Ado is notoriously 'difficult' although a comedy: we have to relish a happy ending that involves a mistrustful bridegroom who publicly humiliates his bride, whose sassy friend promptly demands his death from her own fiancĂ©… some productions simply give up on resolving these aspects, but this production really has a go and, for me, really succeeds. Much credit for this is down to Ursula Dowel, Beatrice’s delightful maid, and the director's decision to created a balcony scene which tricks her as well as the watching spies - there’s quite a bit of this kind of softening of some of the bard’s rough edges, which helps to maintain much of the glamour of the upbeat opening scenes throughout. 

The sequence when a team of inane watchmen ineptly uncover the treacherous plot to discredit Hero is direly unfunny in most productions, but in this one it's somehow hilarious - big credit to David Fynn's Dogberry and his Watch. Here they are (above), and here too are Benedict (John Hefferman) whose friends tricked him into wooing and Claudio (Eben Figueiredo) whose boss did his wooing for him, though both got their girls in the end. A great interpretation of a play that's mainly about gossip, well presented and performed.  (Press image credits Manuel-Harlan)

Still with the bard, this time al fresco with the wonderful Lord Chamberlain's Men at Dyrham ParkThere’s something intrinsically funny about men dressed as women, and when a man dressed-as-a- woman dresses as a man, and is played by a man-dressed-as-a-woman-dressing-as-a-man, the comedy is inevitably compounded. It can get chaotic, of course, so this company deserves huge credit for their brilliant, clever, production of As You Like It, in which seven men played every role with clarity and enormous humour. Rosalind (Ben Lynn) and Celia (Jonny Warr) are both adorable, and the rest of the team are funny and feisty, as necessary.  Handsome Orlando (Andrew Buzzeo), smitten with love for Rosalind, is excellent; Jaques’s melancholy is less turgid than sometimes, and the romance between tiny clown Touchstone and beefy Audrey is funnier than sometimes, so win-win all round. 

The set was a bit odd, though: a turd-like monolith neither palace nor forest, but probably easy for touring. The company will doubtless be exhausted by autumn - their tour schedule involves 73 locations - but they will have made a lot of people very happy.  At Dyrham Park at least 200 of us gathered on the lawn with chairs, rugs, and picnics (in one instance with a folding table) and the multi-talented cast organised us seamlessly into best-viewing positions for all. It’s a great show - go if you can.

This double-drama concluded my week-long birthday bonanza which also involved classy dining & bibbing and wonderful walks with son1 and with friends, discovering places nearby but somehow previously unknown to me - here's  Horningsham Independent Chapel, the oldest Free Church in England, build-date of 1556 and still in regular use for worship. This is within the 9,800 acre Longleat estate, famous for costly attractions - stately home, safari park - but free for walking around the lovely wooded environs where workers' cottage gardens look like flower-packet pictures and new-laid eggs from free range hens are £1.50 a dozen.

Moving on to music now, with another session at The Guggleton in Stallbridge, the Arts Centre with a difference, a wonderfully supportive community venture to foster arts of all kinds, with the Open Mic nights regular well attended. The session on a sultry Thursday evening had some real highlights, one of which was talented duo The Davenports, aka Annie and Roger, with a moving version of that country classic Please Remember me, and a very lively finale from Alan, aka The Rhythm Junkie, with a Bob Marley mashup and mass Oasis singalong. Always a good night at The Gugg outdoor venue - with pizza and bar provided too.

A fizzing finale to this week and this month, at Bath's Komedia, Chortle award-winning 'Best Venue in the West & Wales' for comedy: here Rosie Holt, aka twitter's @RosieisaHolt, on Sunday night shared a preview of her Edinburgh Festival show. 'an hour of character comedy based on her hit satirical videos'. 
Rosie's horribly accurate parodies of political personalities both real & imagined are side-achingly funny, and the evil simpering of her inventions so appallingly realistic that confused commentators become apoplectic with virtuous rage. Rosie's show is already tipped by Time Out in their top 10 best comedy shows in the Festival - if you're up in Edinburgh in August, don't miss her!

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Yet more summer celebrations: drama, art & music

Remember Treasure Island? A coming-of-age story, about desert islands, buried gold, pirates, and a parrot? Exeter's physical comedy theatre Le Navet Bete are touring with their version, at Bristol Old Vic until the end of the month and strongly recommended.  All the elements are there, except the parrot is called Alexa and is just as inept as that cloud-based info-system, and a raft of extraneous characters are also integrated, including Captain Birdseye and an erotic mermaid who steals every scene - a difficult task as the four multi-tasking performers are all fantastic. 
Director John Nicholson has somehow retained a key element in the story - the innocent young hero seeking buried treasure - throughout this hilarious mayhem, even when plot progress at one point depends on the outcome of a game of 'Play Your Cards' right with the audience. Matt Freeman is outrageously memorable, but all the cast are brilliant, interacting with each other and with the audience to make the whole show a giant party. I've never heard an audience laugh so much - strongly recommended.

A different dramatic mood now from  Black Hound Productions, as Frome's fearsomely talented young theatre company has created An Edinburgh Fringe Double Bill previewed at Merlin Theatre on Wednesday.  Both plays use sensitive insight and humour to explore life experiences typical today.  In Seeds of Memories, a young man reminisces in the garden of his much-missed grandfather, finding a kind of magic as well as many memories; in Alright?, a disaffiliated teenage boy struggles to cope in a school-and-home void without support - again, with humour as well as insight. 
 The first play is a virtual monologue for Ollie J Edwards, supported throughout by Lesley Hayes who morphs between beloved Nan & less-adored Mum, and by Lisha Allen as a glamorous evocation of Nature. There's clever puppetry and evocative, neatly-choreographed, scene-shifts evoking natural magic as emotions swell and shift.
The second play is even more engaging, and did actually drag a couple of tears from me as teenage Noah, played by Thomas Price, flails between the tedium of school and home, with a disaffected school counsellor, an inept father, and a dotty grandmother as his only support. This too is extremely well staged as Noah's isolation is evoked by the total absence of any 'key connections': the school psychiatrist is conveyed by a small recess - "because mental health is an afterthought in eduction" while Gran is a voice from the overly-plush corner where 'like some sort of confused pickpocket,' she drops hip-flasks in Noah's pocket in lieu of any real contact. He's heading downwards until the night his dad snaps & rants at him, and Noah realises 'this is the most we've ever spoken', and achieves an awkward, but realistic, breakthrough.  Both plays are written and directed by artistic director Patrick Withey, who also designed the imaginative sets.  

Summertime in the Southwest is as thick with festivals as Edinburgh's Royal Mile is with performers. The Frome Festival of Photography was speedily overlapped by the multi-inclusive Frome Arts Festival, and now Black Swan Arts Open 2022 has filled every available wall and surface in the building with nearly 200 visual art works from over 1000 submitted from far & wide as well as locally - you can see them all in online shop. There's a big buzz around this exhibition, which has insisted on a ceiling price of £1000 from all artists, even the most established - some already showing online as sold.

Theres an exhibition also at the Good Heart Tibetan Memories Cafewhere Lockhart Murdoch  has filled the walls with photographs of Tibet from his archives. These are mainly historic press photographs from his vast collection at One A gallery and shop in Frome town centre, intriguing to visitors at the opening and thrilling to chef Namdi, who recognised the figure featured in one - his own lama and friend. (That's him in the background, behind Namdi's happy grin. ) Alison Murdoch, founder of the Good Heart, also spoke of future plans for this pay-it-forward cafe with a focus on community support

On a personal note: as well as all the above delights, it was my pleasure this week to be interviewed by the truly wonderful Eleanor Talbot about my latest novel Blow-Ins, for her weekly international online show Variations on a Theme (also broadcast on Frome FM next week, link to be posted later). Eleanor's insights are always incisive so our conversation was in-depth & quite challenging - it's great to be quizzed by an enthusiastic fan who also asks questions like "How do you manage balancing the funny with the darker themes?" Perhaps because art is, after all, like life...

This week's landscape is from the riverside at Freshford, at the end of a family walk on Sunday, with the recent intense heat now ebbing into a very pleasant languid warmth.

Although Upton Blues is a week behind us now, in another world below the Malvern Hills where a campervan-village among golden 'cat's ear' field flowers waves with colourful flags, it's been great reviewing my photos of that festival... if you don't have facebook, here's a screenshot of a few snaps...

And finally, another in my series of occasional alerts to fantastic online music you might not already be aware of: Peter Bence, officially the world's fastest piano-player. He's Hungarian, travelling Europe giving live concerts & on Youtube too: here's his version of Don't Stop Me Now - there's more fantastic Queen performances on his page here.  

Monday, July 18, 2022

Hot week, cool blues...

This is a digression-ary posting, as my last five days have been spent soaking up the sun and listening to cool sounds at Upton Blues Festival - biggest free blues festival in the UK. Impossible to attempt a  'review' of any of the blisteringly good bands on the sixteen stages (and various pavements!) across this little town below the Malvern Hills as identifying genres - or indeed sometimes even instruments - is beyond me, but the campsite was brilliantly organised, the town was welcoming, the sound was fantastic and a great time was had by all.  

Don't go quite yet, though - I do have a brief review for you: Bugsy Malone, the stage version, which opened at Theatre Royal Bath and is now on its UK tour through fourteen theatres, concluding with a West End run. Based closely on Alan Parker's famous movie with its Oscar-winning music score by Paul Williams, this is directed by Sean Holmes, reviving his acclaimed 2015 production at the Lyric Hammersmith. It's certainly an enjoyable distraction from much that's happening in the 'real world' to be transported to a land and time when the biggest problem was 'You're no good if you haven't got IT!' and glamour, talent, and romance ruled....  The child stars are delightful, but inevitably it's the high energy of the adult ensemble set pieces that inspires the most exhilaration - the strobe-lighting-enhanced car chase that concludes the first half is simply fabulous...  My full review, for Plays International, is here.

Monday, July 11, 2022

It's a wrap...Frome Festival 2022 now golden memories...

Our revels now are ended. Frome Festival, the week when every public space offers performance nightly while homes & gardens across the town open daily to share artistic & horticultural splendours, is over for another year. Festival Director Martin Dimery has steered the show splendidly for his final time, and can step down with due dramatic pride in this year's showcase of the range and quality of events.  
And as Martin is also responsible for this festival's theatrical highlight - he wrote the book & lyrics and directed the production -  we'll start with The Haunting of Richard the Third. With music by Martin and David Hynds, Kairos Theatre Company performed this stunning drama, emotionally gripping and crammed with jeopardy and joy, on ECOS amphitheatre. It's the eve of the Battle of Bosworth Field, and Richard, last Plantagenet king of England & last English monarch to be killed in battle, is recalling his increasingly indefensible rise to power. We see his glory days, and his fall, overwhelmed by the Yorkist army of Henry Tudor, whose dynasty ruled England for the next hundred years. It's now 20 years since Richard’s body, in an unmarked tomb, was found in a car-park in Leicester. Steve Middle was superb as the degenerating king, and Sarah Wingrove genuinely moving as his queen, with all the cast of supporters & foes, nobles & peasants - and ghosts too, combining to create three hours of riveting entertainment. 
With several theatrical productions, and only one week of festival, choice was difficult: my next pick was the black comedy Silence by Moira Buffini at the Assembly Rooms, a Dark Ages drama billed as Monty Pythonesque. Written in 1999 and well received at the time (it won an award for best English language play by a woman) this production by Frome Drama definitely had its moments and was well acted and often funny but perhaps Black Adder and social media have raised the bar for dark age satire as there wasn't much edge or bite, and the thought-provoking aspect seemed lacking. 
Even the Museum became a performance space this year, as Rosie Eliot of Nevertheless Productions together with Debbie Clayton created a clever, funny, and informative drama around some of the characters in the current 'Celebrated Women of Frome' exhibition there. The Auditions imagines six of Frome's most colourful historic characters chatting as they wait for their moment to impress the judges of Britain's Got Talent: here Christina Rossetti worries that In the Bleak Midwinter will be dismissed as too gloomy while Emma Sheppard is keen to further her philanthropic work with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine - an apt choice as her 1859 pamphlet urging workhouse reform was titled 'Sunshine in the Workhouse'.

Segueing from conversational speech to narrative, the dark horse of the festival was a one-off extravaganza at the Assembly rooms on Monday: The Magic of the Universe from the Pagan Gospel Groove Machine, led by Ed Green, promised 'an interactive immersive experience with audience participation, harmony singing, music and dancers, told with love, hope, spirituality and connection'. Think '70s 'happening' idealism, with shared intention like an '80s 'encounter group'. It was moving simply listening to the music and watching the backdrop film of galactic activity, but the hall was too full of seating for the audience to actively join the dancers - a really lovely immersive experience though.
As you'd expect, bands were playing in most of the pubs around town - Frome's popular Unit 4 had a 'Soundcheck' show on VRA, viewable here - and there was also excellent live music at nearby Marston Park Glampsite, a pleasant 40 minutes walk away, down lanes and across fields, which offered free access during festival week to locals - fabulous to lounge by the lake at sunset, listening to high quality live jazz from the Damian Cook Trio, with Bryan Posslethwaite on piano & Henrik Jenson on bass.
These were my evening highlights, but throughout the daytime there was an amazing array of art on view in venues right across the town - and beyond, too. Among my favourites were Cameron Scott's relief wood carvings, and the superb paintings of Miguel Ornia-Blanco and Dan Morley in their Silk Mill Studios, but there was much more that was hugely impressive too.
The final weekend brought another Frome Festival extravaganza/happening - the Open Gardens, when 42 private gardens in and around Frome reveal their locations and invite visitors to call in and admire them - the map plus details is a well-invested fiver, as wandering these gardens and talking to their friendly tenders is worth five times that. Lavender thick with bees, forests of hollyhocks, lily-ponds, trees, curios, and cups of tea all feature in these drop-in visits, with garden-lovers comparing notes and sharing recommendations. 
And finally... this week's artsy account of life in Frome life will conclude as mine did, on a writerly note: Frome Writers Collective gathered on the ECOS site to read flash fiction to each other - thanks Dawn Denton for this pic of me, with organisers Gill Harry & Brenda Bannister -
- and to discover the results of this year's short story competition, judged by  journalist and novelist, Keith Stuart ... and the winner was: Nikki Coplestone! And my festival, having begun by sipping champagne with Roger McGough, ended with the monthly 'Proof Pudding' book-club meeting at River House, where we share our reviews of titles sent to Hunting Raven Books for manager Tina Gaysford-Waller's consideration - mine this time was STALKING THE ATOMIC CITY by Markiyan Kamysh, a shocking yet lyrical account of the perilous life of an illegal returner to Chernobyl.