For fans of Victoria Hislop's The Island and Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key, a powerful debut novel about a woman shuttling between America and Greece to solve the mystery surrounding her family's past and claim an identity of her own.
A phone call from her cousin sends Calliope Notaris Brown from Boston to the Greek city of Patras to sort through an inheritance from her uncle. She arrives during the wild abandon of Carnival, when the world is turned upside down and things are not as they seem. Digging through the keepsakes her uncle has left, Callie stumbles upon clues to the wartime disappearance of the family's fortune and to the mystery of her estranged mother's chronic unhappiness. As she pieces together family secrets that stretch back to the Italian occupation of Greece during World War II, Callie's relationship with her fiancé, her mother, and her mother's two sisters will change irrevocably
And here's what I thought: I really enjoyed this book, and found that it was a real pleasure to sit and read and become completely immersed in the story. I suppose part of the appeal of the book, beyond the family stories (in the present, and in the past), which I always like to read, was that the main character's family is Greek, and she goes to Greece. When I was in middle school, I had a good friend who was Greek, and every summer, she would go to visit family there --- and I was completely fascinated by this. So, reading Callie's story made me think about my friend, and the stories she'd tell me about her family.
As you can see from the summary, Callie's family seems to have some secrets, and when she goes to Greece to handle her uncle's estate, she's determined to learn more about her family's past. What's interesting is that there are a lot of dynamics at work here: Callie's relationship with her mother, Callie's relationship with her boyfriend (which is actually very much affected by her relationship with her mother), Callie's relationship with her cousin and aunts, and even Callie's mother's relationship to her own sisters. There's a lot that takes place in the present time, but there are also some flashbacks where you get the story from Callie's mother's perspective. None of the characters are perfect, and I think that's what makes reading about them interesting ---- decisions get made that you read and think, "Maybe you shouldn't do that," or "I wonder what's going to happen now,"; it's like I had an internal dialogue going at points in the story.
The author does a nice job of really getting into the characters, and seamlessly going back and forth with them. Her writing is descriptive enough that it's easy to imagine not only the people in the story, but also the places. While I've never been to Greece (it's on my wish list), I felt like I could completely imagine the places in the story. The author is a first-generation Greek American, and there's a real feel in this story of how Callie is searching to find someplace where she feels she fits in, something that I don't think is an uncommon experience for first-generation Americans. It's not always easy to straddle the two worlds of the present American experience and the family's immigrant/non-American experience. I did sometimes get a little frustrated with the characters, and actually felt like the story was just skimming the surface with some of them --- but I still enjoyed the book, and found it to be a page-turner.
I'm including a link to the author's site, in case you're interested and would like to read more about her, and the book.
First lines: On those rare occasions when she couldn't control the world around her, my mother placed the blame squarely on America, the country she had reluctantly immigrated to from Greece in 1959. My father would retort that there were flaws in Greece too, but she ignored him because he was American.