The Salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin – Reader Witch

Genre: historical novel. ⭐️Stars from Goodreads: 3.7. ⭐️Stars from me: 3.5

The Salt of the Earth is an extraordinary book, but unfortunately I didn’t like it as much as I expected.

About the book

The Salt of the Earth is a pacifist novel about a person who loses what little he had to be a farmer in something he has no understanding of.

The novel was first published in Polish in 1936 and received great acclaim. As a result, the author Jozef Wittlin was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1939. The book was first translated into English in 1940. It was supposed to be the first book in a trilogy, but the drafts of the other two volumes were lost when a soldier in a French town threw the case into the sea with them in 1940. Only the first section of the second book has survived and is included in this edition.

Good things about the book

Salt of the earth is an example of beautiful writing. Jozef Wittlin was a poet and you can feel it in his book. Here are some quotes.
About the news that the war has started:

The news spread orally. The mouth bit it, chewed it, ground it and grinded it until suddenly a million mouths spat a word like a bitter almond on the sidewalk.

At the recruiting station:

Around noon, Niewiadomski’s name flew out from under the sergeant’s black mustache.

And more:

Stars flashed one after the other on the clear firmament, glorious, ripe, brilliant. It was nights like this that gave birth to astronomy.

What I did not like

Unfortunately, despite the beautiful writing and the larger message, I didn’t like the novel. There are only about fifteen cases of direct speech throughout the book, about ten of which are actual dialogues that are short and kept to a minimum. Even when there is communication between characters, it is recited as a narrative. Overall, the book feels like someone wrote you a huge letter recounting various events and thoughts. This type of writing takes away any dynamism from the book. The book was written 80 years ago, so the rules of storytelling were probably different then, but I read classics and have never come across anything as quietly as water in a pond.

Even though there is a protagonist, you never bond closely with him. It’s just a tool to show you what a state can do to a person. And since it’s an unfinished story, you don’t even find out what eventually happened to him.

I’m not an expert on translating the book, but I think the name that sounds like “Semyon” or “Semion” would look just as much better spelled than simply being transcribed as “Sperma”.

Final thoughts

It is undoubtedly a very deep book, but the peculiarity of the writing style makes it very difficult to read and the incompleteness of the story brings no satisfaction. So I can only give it 3.5 stars. I’m sure someone with a different attitude towards reading will like it more.

Thanks to the editors for the copy in exchange for my honest evaluation.

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