Book Review: Among the Lemon Trees, by Nadia Marks

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_among_the_lemon_treesAnna’s twenty-five year marriage has hit a crisis and, with her two grown children off travelling for the summer, it is time for her to make time for herself, to reflect on her relationship and consider her future. And when her aging father decides he wants to spend the summer on his native Greek island, the perfect opportunity for relaxing and contemplating presents itself. Neither Anna or her father have been to the island since her mother died four years ago, however when they arrive, they slip back into the family’s welcoming and loving embrace. Memories of hot, lazy summers with Greek cousins aplenty flood back and soon Anna is one of the locals again.

Amidst the sun and idyllic settings, Anna slowly examines her heart as she is enfolded in the security of friendship and the familiar. The Greeks recognise four different kinds of love (agape – spiritual love; Éros – physical, passionate love; philia – ‘mental’ love, regard or friendship and storgé – affectionate love) and while on the island, Anna comes closer to understanding each of these through her own experiences both past and present, and from uncovering a closely guarded family secret. It is this secret, revealed initially through letters, that provides much of the action of the story – we are taken back to where it all began, pre-World War II. Not only does this history relate a dramatic love story, it opens a window into the lives of everyday citizens in both Greece and Italy during the conflict.

Gently paced, as is suitable for a story reflecting on the many aspects of love and set in a sun drenched Mediterranean island, the story really picks up once Anna discovers the hidden letters in her aunt’s house. Marks has done a fine job of knitting the past with the present and bringing together a village of varied supporting characters who each have an important role to play in helping Anna through her summer of growth and change. At the end of the story, she better understands her personal definition of love in all its forms.

Born in Cyprus and raised in London, Marks is well equipped to introduce us to life in the Greek village with its traditions and daily workings. Her background is in journalism and this is her third novel. Filled with sunny days, sparkling seas and balmy nights under the stars, Among the Lemon Trees could be just the ticket for the approaching cold rainy weekends.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Among the Lemon Trees
by Nadia Marks
Pan Macmillan, 2017

Book Review: Soundings of Hellas, by John Davidson

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_soundings_of_hellasFor those who are familiar with Greek myth and history, it is easy to find an entry into John Davidson’s latest collection of poetry, Soundings of Hellas. It is filled with references to both the ancient world of the past as well as to the more modern Greece visited by Davidson. But as the poem on the back of this collection, The Myth of Myths, mentions, ‘The heartbeat of a myth is / felt in Wellington as much / as in Santorini, Larissa or / squeezing Piraeus.’

It is this presence of Wellington and New Zealand, alongside present day Greece, that connects to the past and to these ancient myths, making what may feel like a distant story seem almost like home.

At first the many classical allusions feel almost overwhelming, even for someone who studied Ancient Greek myths. But soon familiarity sneaks in alongside the heroes and gods. In the poem First Impressions we are told that ‘Poverty was a crude sign soliciting / camping on a patched patch of / grass in front of a cottage. Almost / Arcadian after the self-importance / of Patras.’ While the second part of these lines is a bit distant, this image of camping is familiar for almost every New Zealander. It also instantly ties together Greece with something relatable. This ease with which comfort is created certainly helps to bring some of the unknown elements into a more welcoming space.

Davidson not only deals with the ancient past of Greece, but also visits it in more recent history, painting vivid pictures of his experiences and impressions. In the poem Athens, 28 October ‘Aegean Airways disgorged us / from an oppressive cloud bank / into an airport like any other.’ Again Davidson tries to make the unfamiliar familiar with his words. While the rest of this poem mixes a present day Greece with images from the past, the opening lines lessens the alienating effect this can have in the reader. Davidson does this in a subtle way, and unlike the Greek influence it doesn’t stand out, perhaps making it a lot more effective.

But perhaps the best mixing of these different points of interest for Davidson comes in the poem Talking Olympos, which opens with the lines ‘You can spot Hermes any day on some / Wellington street.’ It is this casual way of placing these two elements together that create a truly enjoyable collection that plays around with ancient myths and brings them into a relatable and modern world. As the poem’s last lines say, ‘A busy bunch, the Olympians. / Ignore them at your peril.’

Reviewed by Matthias Metzler

Soundings of Hellas
by John Davidson
Published by Steele Roberts Aotearoa
ISBN 9781927242957