ELKOST International Literary Agency

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Tribute to the Salamander, 2009

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Long-listed for the 2011 National Bestseller Award
Long-listed for the 2011 NOS Literary Award

Marina Palei’s Tribute to Salamander is about the tense, erratic/erotic relations of two women.

The image of an enchanting yet ominous salamander corresponds to the dualistic, dyadic, “shapeshifting” nature of life. Salamander is considered as a spirit of fire, one of the four basic elements of the universe, and its dance enables the process of “burning” (i.e. love, birth); yet, simultaneously, its  fire dance “dialectically” leads to inevitable extinction (disappointment, death).

“I” (the Narrator) and “She” (the Girl) are nameless on principle. The meaning of this technique is revealed in the process of immersion into the peculiar world of the novel. Essentially, the novel tells about the relationship between a human being and a salamander, that is fire and life itself. However, which of the characters is “a human being” and which is “a salamander” remains a mystery. Perhaps, each one of them combine the qualities of both. Every part of the novel begins with the description of some new salamander qualities. It’s a semantic and poetic introduction and simultaneously a refrain, that adds rhythm and brings the segments of the narration together.


The narrative takes place in the middle of the 1980ies. The life of a lonely thirty-year-old Narrator is disrupted by a sudden appearance of a homeless pregnant provincial girl, “an orphan with living parents”, sweeping her peaceful existence away with the hurricane of hitherto unknown worries. This part contains powerful descriptions of nature. The snow-covered coniferous Ingria (a historical name for the area between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga) is depicted with great love and expertise.


The description of the winter forest grandeur is topped by a fantastic feast in the winter pine wood. Thanks to the Narrator – her unreserved generosity and love – the fabulous pageant turns into reality. This chapter is written in the mix-genre of a Western European thriller and a psychological romance novel (abundant with deep research of a sexual nature).


This Part is “the load-bearing structure” of the entire novel.

In an attempt to make a surprise for the Girl’s birthday the Narrator decides to remodel the staircase of the abandoned back entrance. She secretly repairs and decorates the staircase in every possible way, trying to transform the secret space into a "world for two". The final chapter of this part contains the Narrator’s detailed, merciless description of her childhood discovery of the “horrible secrets of the sexes". In general, this story can be considered as one of the main variations on “the treacherous, backstabbing nature”.


The development of the problem of another space is continued here in dreams. Then once more, the Narrator’s dwelling experiences an alien intrusion. This time, it's a fatal intrusion, because as a result, the Narrator has to banish the Girl from her home and her life.


The Narrator blames herself of being a puppeteer, of imposing her own will, views, tastes, etc. on the Girl – what has been taking place during their life together.

Suddenly the Narrator receives a phone call that informs her that the Girl is in a psychiatric hospital. It is there the avalanching nightmare finally reach its maximum, dissolving a boundary between dreams and reality completely. It turns out that the Girl “in fact” was not who she had claimed to be. Based on that, there seems no escaping the conclusion that the Narrator, for several years, had been preoccupied exclusively with the chimerical concerns of the Girl, and, naturally, has been living a chimerical life. The life that was not even invented by herself.

In spite of this seemingly complete wreckage, the Narrator experiences a spiritual growth because the value of life consists in the depth and genuineness of one’s feelings, regardless of the reality or “fictitiousness” of their source. The novel ends with two lyric scenes.