Review by Marie Humble
There are many reasons we choose to read. Sometimes it’s for escapism, a chance to delve into other worlds that distract us from a less extravagant reality. Other times it’s for education, to build on our knowledge so we can see things from all perspectives. I decided to pick up The Secret Box by Daina Tabuna because I’d heard it included stories which followed the theme of feminism, which is a subject I am extremely passionate about. I was also intrigued to read Daina’s work as her first short story collection Pirma Reize (The First Time) was shortlisted in the Best Debut category of the 2015 Annual Latvian Literary Awards. I have to say… she didn’t disappoint me.
The short story collection includes three stories titled Deals with God, The Secret Box and The Spleen, my favourite organ. They all follow girls and women at different stages in their life which was interesting because it showed what thoughts or situations we may face. To give a brief summary, Deals with God follows a young girl who is at first unsure about religion but eventually builds on her relationship with Jesus and uses it to help her become a better person. I loved how Daina wrote this so we could see the world through innocent eyes, with all the questions and childhood simplicity that we lose later in life. It was a simple story but gripping nonetheless because, even after reading it, I was left to ponder over my own relationship with religion. As a society, we have become fairly cynical or dismissive at times when it comes to religion, so it was good to see this topic being portrayed in a positive way.
The next story was The Secret Box, which was my favourite from this collection! This story follows a young girl, who is becoming a teenager. She and her brother Edgars are sent to the countryside to stay with their auntie whilst their parents are sorting out their divorce. Whilst they are there, Edgars initially tries to dominate the games they play and essentially control his sister, but this doesn’t last long. They end up bonding over a secret they share and work together while going through this difficult time. I won’t say anymore as I don’t want to spoil it, but I loved the developing sibling bond and how I got to explore the worlds that Edgars and his sister created.
A quote that I absolutely loved from this story was “Without warning, the time had arrived where it wasn’t our dolls that had to be beautiful and sexy, but us ourselves”. To me this perfectly sums up what the transition to becoming a teenager is like for a young girl. I commend Daina for highlighting this issue and for showing what society expects from women, even from a young age.
The last story in the collection was The Spleen, My Favourite Organ which followed a young woman who is trying to figure out her purpose in life. She befriends Maris who is a quiet man, though he nevertheless enjoys her company. It wasn’t a typical love story and the dynamic between the characters was a breath of fresh air. Particularly, I enjoyed how our main character took control of her life and what she wanted, without letting Maris control her.
Overall, I think this short story collection is fantastic! These simple entertaining stories woven with feminist ideas makes this collection one that I would recommend for both young women and men. It’s also worth mentioning that there are some lovely illustrations included by Mark Andrew Webber! It has been great to read a book from another culture and I hope you will all consider picking it up.