The Old Lion Publisher of Lviv has been in the market for a few years, and published some wonderful children’s books with the characteristic beautiful, surrealistic illustrations of contemporary Lviv books. The first one, which we will soon present, is about Lemberg’s heraldic animal, who gave its name to the publisher, the old lion, who receives exotic visitors in his loft, and while we accompany their way from the railway station to Lemberg’s main square, we also get to know the city’s enchanting small streets and houses.
The Old Lion also publishes other books related to Lemberg and to the Ukraine. Last year was published the picture book – which we will also present – that explains the Maidan to the children, with illustrations based on old Rusyn motifs. And this year the book that tells what is war, and how to counter it.
In 2015 the book received the special prize of the Bologna Ragazzi Award, and on this occasion the publisher interviewed the two authors, Romana Romanyshyn and Andrij Lesiv.
The war, as our previous post shows, is actual again in the Ukraine now, a hundred years after the great war that destroyed Galicia. However, acording to the authors, the book is not only about this war.
“We have many book ideas, that are constantly noted on this paper on the wall here, marking their priority by underlining, highlighting and with exclamatin marks. The theme of war has never been included on this paper. We heard about the war only from our grandparents, or from the news about other countries. All these horrors were far away, and seemed to never reach here. But things have changed in the Ukraine. Other kinds of priorities have emerged, we had to rethink the values. Suddenly, all the stories told by witnesses about other wars, have become reality in our own country. This book on the war naturally reflects the events happening now. But this book is not only about our war in the Ukraine, it contains no data or geographical reference to it. All is based on simple symbols, like light and darkness, flowers and weeds, thin paper and sharp metal. The language of symbols is a clear and universal language, independent of geography.”
The city called Rondo was special. The air was clean and transparent, as if it were of the finest light. And its inhabitants were also all special and fragile. They grew flowers, tended gardens and parks, built fantastic houses, talked with the birds and plants, loved to sing, draw and write poetry. And they were happy to live in Rondo. But the city was most loved by three friends: Darko, Zirka and Fabian. Everyone knew them in Rondo.
Danko’s body was thin and translucent, and bright as a candle. His heart shone the brightest. He often rambled the streets of the city on his penny-farthing, humming the melodies of his favorite movies. A basket hung on the handlebar, with a thick atlas in it, which contained the old engravings of plants, flowers and trees.
Mozart: Rondo alla turca. Fiona Vilnite’s transcript for string quartet
Fabian was a descendant of ancient treasure hunters, with sharp sense of smell and sight. He was so light, that even the slightest breeze could have lifted and taken him far away, had he not had a silver medal with a letter “F” in his neck. The medal was heavy and solid, and Fabian never took it off his neck, he was so stuck to the land and to Rondo.
Zvirka could fly. He soared high in the sky, and could even perform complex aerobatics. He flew high on his paper wings, and he wrote on them his travel sketches and notes. Because he loved to travel more than anything else.
Rondo was famous for its beautiful flowers. On the main square was the city’s pride and treasure, the greenhouse. Here they collected the rarest flowers and plants from the most remote corners of the planet. But what was most surprising: these flowers could sing.
They often staged concerts in the greenhouse, which always featured Mozart’s Rondo. They came together from every corner of the city to enjoy this incredible spectacle. And every morning, when the sun rose, the flowers sang the anthem of the city, proudly lifting up their heads into the light.
Danko cycled every morning before sunrise to the greenhouse, because he loved to start the day by singing. Together with the flowers. He understood the flowersr better than anyone else. He took care so they felt well, and always had enough water and light. He carefully studied the atlas with the Latin names, because he wanted to know, which flower what needs the most.
After lunch, Danko often met Fabian in the corner café, where they discussed the latest news. Then they went to see Zvirka. Although they were never sure whether they find him at home, because Zvirka often flew to distant voyages, and he was not seen for several days in the city.
This day was just like any other in Rondo. The inhabitants of the town rushed after their jobs. Danko was going to his friend, because he knew that Zvirka had just come back from a journey, and he brought lots of new stories and pictures with him. The sun was shining, the birds and flowers singing. Everything was like always…
Suddenly everything was quiet. The news swept through the town:
The inhabitants of Rondo did not know, who the War is. It came out of nowhere, black and terrible. Roaring and gnashing crept towards the city, leaving behind ruins, chaos and darkness. Everything it touched fell into an impenetrable darkness. But the most terrible was that it sowed black flowers, dry and thorny weeds, which had no smell and no sound. They instantly sprang out of the earth, and grew into a thick jungle, which hid the sun. And in the lack of light, the fragile and defenseless flowers of Rondo began to fade and wither. They had no more force to raise their heads towards the light. And worst of all, they did not sing any more.
Danko, Zirka and Fabian, though fragile, were brave. They went out against the War. First they wanted to speak to it, asking it to go away. But the War ignored them, stubbornly going further, and launched its terrible machinery into attack. It threw fiery sparks and sharp stones everywhere.
One of the stones hit Danko on the chest, just above the heart, and a huge crack arose on his body. The sparks reached Zirka, and burned through his paper wings. And a black flower grew out in front of Fabian, piercing his leg.
The War did not spare anyone.
Then the three friends tried to talk to War in its language. Zirka and Fabian collected the stones and nails flying over the city, and threw them back. But this did not stop the War. Danko thought that the War could be stopped if they made better its heart. But in vain, because the War had no heart.
The three friends watched in despair as the War was destroying their fragile world. The inhabitants of the city disappeared one after another. There was less and less hope that the War would ever leave. The once bright and bustling streets became empty. And there was less and less light.
It went on day after day. The War steadily advanced, spreading black flowers everywhere, and the three friends tried to defend the city as they could.
Danko continued to go to the greenhouse, whose windows were darkened, and where the few surviving flowers stood languidly and silently in the corner.
On one occasion, when darkness was already so thick, that Danko could barely find his way, he tried to save at least these last flowers with the light of his penny-farthing. He put it on a stand, directed its lamp on the flowers, and began to pedal.
As soon as the light fell on the flowers, they recovered, and their pale color became vivid. Danko pedaled more and more quickly. The light grew greater and greater. Then Danko started to sing the anthem of the city, which had not been heard for long in Rodno. As he arrived at the end of the first stanza, one of the flowers lifted its head, and sang wwith him. And then the second and the third. Then a dozen of them sang the anthem in choir.
And Danko understood: the War was terrified, because a dozen flowers kept on singing, in spite of everything, because even the thinnest beam of light weakened the darkness. So, to stop the War, the whole community has to build the great machinery of Light, which dispels darkness and saves the singing flowers!
The three friends immediately went to work. The other inhabitants of the city also come one after the other to help them, and the main square of Rondo became a bustling ant’s nest. All united in a common cause, they worked as well as they could. The city worked like a single coordinated clockwork.
Zirka carried out reconnaissance flights, and drew on his wings the location of the enemy camp, and the peered data. Fabian, as the best treasure hunter, collected parts to the light machine in construction. Danko acquired a large book on mechanics, and directed from it the construction of the machine.
When the machine was ready, they all took their places, and began to pedal on command. Hundreds of pedals, thousands of wheels started to spin at a rate – and the machine was launched. Light flooded the streets. Danko, Zvirka, Fabian and all the inhabitants of the city sang the anthem of Rondo together with the flowers.
Mozart: Rondo alla turca. Guitar transcription by Charlie Parra del Riego
The War stopped short, then it slowly began to dissipate in the light emitted by the machine. The stronger the light, the louder the anthem, the quicker the War disappeared, and together with it, the darkness and the thorny black flowers as well.
Rondo sang the anthem until the last black flower disappeared, and the last remnant of the darkness was dispelled.
It was a victory!
In place of the black flowers, red poppies grew out of the earth. Before the War, poppies of many colors grew in Rondo, pink, yellow, violet, purple, white, but not a single red one. Now, however, all the poppies were only red.
However, unfortunately, not everything could be restored. The cracks remained on Dankoʻs transparent body and heart, as well as the burn marks on Zirka’s wings, and Fabian was limping with his pierced leg.
The inhabitants of the city also became different. Everyone had sad memories about the War, which changed Rondo. And the city was covered with the multitude of the red poppies growing all over.*
(* Since 1914, the red poppy has been the symbol of the falle in the war.)
Mozart: Rondo alla turca. The original piano piece, performed by Daniel Barenboim