REVIEW: Sihastrul

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Plantus said that she wrote “Sihastrul” on the premise that if someone found it in a cave somewhere in the future, and they treated like something that was ancient, what would they have to say about it?

“It’s cosmic,” she said with wonder.

Cosmic is the best way to describe her novella.

The meaning of the book changes each time it is read. It’s about the search for meaning in the very first word, a quest to discover identity, a tale about the beginning of the world. This small novella has big ideas, strong language, and mystical elements packed within it. She mixes prose and poetry to create several small books that are linked together to form the story of “Sihastrul, the Hermit.” The books are written by a variety of narrators, each an important character in the story. Some include the Hermit, his Mother, the Old Angel, God, and the Butterfly. Each one has a well-developed personality that brings them alive on the page.

The reader has the choice to read the books in any order if they’d like, because all of the books are interconnected and jump around in space and time. There is no right or wrong way to read. I read it from front to back, which I believe would be the best way to read it (it was organized in that way for a reason.) The clues, or breadcrumbs as I like to say, that lead you down the story’s path is much more rewarding that way.

One of the biggest mysteries of the novella is the identity of the Hermit. Do not expect an answer by the end. It is left entirely up to the reader to try and use the breadcrumbs, as I said earlier, to discover his identity. After all, not even the Hermit is entirely sure who he is either.

Plantus’ writing is so strong I can barely believe a single person was able to compose it. The images are vivid, vivacious, and full of power. She chose the perfect words to describe every detail in the book. Her dialogue, although sparse, was direct and loaded with personality. It’s obvious she put a lot of time in crafting her novella, but I’m certain part of it is the fact that Plantus is gifted when it comes to word choice and language. Being bilingual gives her an edge. I would describe her ability to write as being able to look at an image through a kaleidoscope and find a way to utilize every fragment.

One example of this is her unique use of subscripts and superscripts to add an extra layer of meaning to a word. “SighNAIed” is the word she brought up in our interview. The original word is sighed, but with the additional superscript, the reader can see “Sinai” – an important biblical reference to the mountain Sinai. These types of elements are spread throughout the book. One of the more beautiful line I read was within the first book. The Hermit says, “How could anyone know the painCENTURIES that riveted through me.” It’s in these brilliant moments where Plantus put two meanings into her sentence. Much like when she stated in our interview that she often has a cluster of words when she thinks of one thing. She wants the reader to read “pain” but hear “centuries.” It’s a beautiful way to guide the reader, as well as allow them to read it a different way each time they pick up the book.

Another helpful thing Plantus added was end notes. While reading, I flipped back and forth to the end to understand all the allusions, even ones I did understand. Although helpful, it is also distracting to jump to the endnotes in the middle of reading. Of course, you can easily read the book all the way through and then read the end notes, but I prefer understanding every reference immediately than having to wait.

The only jarring flaw that caused a bit of trouble for me was in Book XI. The endnotes marked don’t match the ones in the back of the book. It’s not a huge mistake, but it was one that made me have to reread to understand. Just note that 31 should be 33, 32 should be 34, 33 should be 35, and 34 should be 36. In Book XII, the endnotes begin to match again.

Other than that, I found nothing wrong with the novella – both technically and story wise. “Sihastrul” can be disorienting at times, and I would recommend it for a child unless they have a high reading level and are skilled in critical thinking. Even I had to pause and process what I was reading. It’s a challenging, thought provoking book that will open the mind and tantalize the soul in all of us. It’s clean, beautifully written, and one of the strongest books I’ve read in a long time. Thankfully, it doesn’t end here. Plantus is planning on making a series of books, and I can’t wait to read them all.

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