Published in The Atlas Review Chapbook Series, this essay chronicles the author's return to Lisbon years after experiencing a violent event and her struggle to piece together memories and elusive facts.
Ellena Savage is an Australian author and academic. She is the author of the chapbook Yellow City (The Atlas Review, 2019) and numerous essays, stories, and poems published in literary journals internationally. Ellena is the recipient of several grants and fellowships, including most recently the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship 2019–2021. She lives in Athens, Greece, with her husband, Dominic Amerena.
It's hard to review personal experience. Harder again to not imbue the review with your own experiences. But chances are, I will do this regardless.
"I didn't lose anything personal except perhaps the myth that blonde princesses live, well, happily ever after" (9).
Yellow City follows Ellena's 2017 return to Lisbon, to uncover the results of a crime committed against her eleven years prior. The chapbook explores the ebbs and errs of memory, of self-hood and freedom. Sexual assault. Where perpetrators are innocent. Children. Where trauma regardless, lingers in nooks we still try to understand.
I'm all too familiar with the parental secrecy, with the urgency to know myself again after the experiences of my youth. This echoes in Ellena's words, "Do you know me?" Do I even know me? Ellena and I alike have begun sculpting our new lives, as well as our new selves, shedding perspectives and thoughts like snakeskin. We continue to be the same, but different.
"I didn't think about the word trauma until years later, when I noticed that my nerves could not hold still, not even in a minor crisis" (22).
What Ellena writes is powerful. Exploratory, and truth. Empowered by asides, by the back and forth reassuring and questioning of our own minds, Ellena offers readers an insight into her life, and into crimes with no witnesses. She is careful, poetic and just. I am chilled and stuck, not everything in yellow is warming. Listen to all the tones. Listen to this incredible written voice.
The brevity of this essay belies the expansiveness of Ellena's ideas and the breadth of what she covers, from living through and in the aftermath of trauma to the fallibility of memory. The last page took my breath away as Ellena upended everything I thought I knew and pulled the rug out from under me with an unparalleled deftness.
This is a great memoir chapbook — if that’s such a thing. The right amount of character and thought and setting and action. Very interior but not circling its belly button. Does that make sense? It’s a couple hours read (tops) and you’ll like it.