Summer literature

It is nice to install yourself with a book in a cool spot during a heatwave; and when the book also talks about your holiday destination you can doubly enjoy it.

The Canadian writer Irena Karafilly lives partly in Greece and recently published her second novel taking part in Molyvos. Her first book, The Captive Sun*, is about a school teacher, Calliope. When the Germans in 1941 installed their headquarters in the town hall of Molyvos, Calliope was summoned to become the translator, because she spoke German. Then fate struck: she fell in love with the German officer Lorenz. A love she cannot give in to, because she also becomes a member of the resistance.  

The book continues when World War Two has finished and the civil war has broken out, bringing once again bad nights to the village, because now it’s the communists being chased. Then comes the military junta, causing the rebels to hide in the hills. 

Karafilly speaks mercilessly about the relations in a small village, friend and enemy making each others’ lives a hell. They were quick to judge, especially when you were thought to be friends with the enemy.  Hatred and jealousy brought fear, terror and resistance. 

Last spring Karafilly’s second Molyvos novel was published: Arrested Song**. Curiously this book has the same content as The Captive Sun, having Calliope and her forbidden love for the German Lorenz at the centre of the story. Just a bit different and more elaborated. Which is a bit strange. However that is no reason to not read the book. It is interesting to learn what impact these turbulent periods had on the community. For about thirty five years, until 1974, the walls of Molyvos had big ears and it was only family you could trust.  

At the end of the story there is a short overview of modern Greek history and a Greek glossary. A list of all the characters would also have been helpful. The book is populated by lots of resistance members, communists, left wing thinkers, widows and children, making it a bad idea to read this book during a heatwave, because it asks a lot of energy to follow all those people.

The book Fire on the island by Timothy Jay Smith*** is more heatwave-proof. An airy and exciting story, playing out over one summer, with a lot less characters. This story also is set in the winding, cobbled streets of Molyvos, in a time when there are tourists and refugees instead of Germans. It’s about an FBI-agent looking for an arsonist. Molyvos may seem sleepy in this story, but there is a lot going on behind its old weather-beaten front doors. Racism, jealousy, love and more make the story a page turner. Amidst the blue sea, fresh sardines and medieval village, the local priest, the fool of the village, a gentleman and a teenager in love whirl around each other. A real holiday book. 

But tension may cause perspiration. So when the heat becomes almost unbearable, or when the airco stops, you may want to read a classic Greek novel: Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki**** , about three sisters who grow up on an estate in Kifisia, not so far from Athens. Where Arrested Song starts, this novel finishes –  just before World War II. It was published in 1946 and became a bestseller. It made the Greeks remember the time when you only had to arm yourself with a straw hat against a scorching sun, without any fear for soldiers. The Greek title of the book is Ta psathina kapella, meaning The straw hats and this headgear has remained as popular in the summer months like it was in this novel. 

The story radiates a summer languor, that hangs over the pages like a veil offering protection from the sun. A book underlaid with subjects that might be somewhat dramatic, yet only being somewhat melancholy, because of the sweet memories.

Reading is ideal for hot summer days when a little breeze on the beach can turn the pages of a book, or when slowly fanning curtains provide some coolness while you take a siesta inside. And it is a great distraction from thinking of the awful wildfires or being fretful because of a never ending heatwave.

* Irena Karafylli – The Captive Sun, Picador 2012
** Irena Karafylli – Arrested Song, Legend Press 2023
*** Timothy Jay Smith – Fire on the Island, Arcade Crimewise, 2020
**** Margarita Liberaki – Three Summers, Penguin European Writers, 2021