Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Clover House; by Henriette Lazaridis Power (Release date April 2)

Books take me places. Sometimes the journey is through time and memory; sometimes it's to a distant place, bringing the flavor of the land or the scent of the wind to me through words. Sometimes the journey is internal, echoing an experience of my own. The Clover House is the rare novel that braided these three types of journeys together for me, and bound them neatly inside its cover.

There are two threads of story in this book. One follows Callie Brown, who heads to Greece to receive her inheritance left to her by her beloved uncle, who has recently died; the other is the back story of her mother's life as a girl in Greece. The relationship between Callie and Clio, her mother has always been intense, difficult, and distant, though seemingly, Clio's relationship with everyone is fraught with tension. There is brittleness and bitterness in both women, the tension a palpable element in their relationship as well as how they relate to the close-knit kin who live in Patras. The damaged relationship with her mother has made it difficult for Callie to accept closeness and love at all, and she determines to try and sort things out with her mother, as well as discover her real feelings about Jonah, her fiance back in the US.  Plus, she is determined to unravel the mystery of what fractured her mother's ability to love, and fractured her family as well.

What made this book so vivid for me were the descriptions of Carnival in Patras, and the picture drawn of Greece during Clio's childhood, how the approach of WWII and the days that followed.  I visited Greece once, over 40 years ago, and still can recall the quality of light on the hillsides, and a special kind of earthy reality to the land. Power's writing helped transport me through time and space, to revisit, and also learn more about this land she so clearly, and so dearly loves.

My own relationship with my mother was almost diametrically opposed to the mother-daughter dyad in the book. But as Callie sorts through the possessions of a lifetime, left by her uncle, I was sorting through the remnants of my mother's life. It was a life I thought I knew fairly well, but the process of clearing out her possessions and souvenirs has opened new dimensions, shown me new aspects, and even told me new tales of a life well lived. Callie's experience so clearly shadowed my own task (when I was not busy reading) that at times I had to take breaks to remember which discoveries were hers and which were mine. I also learned, as Callie did, that the stories we grew up with may just be reflections of what actually happened. I wrestle now with the decision to maintain the stories my siblings and I were told, or do I go for historical accuracy? Or a blending of the two?

What is ultimately important, and what The Clover House weaves so well, is that the fabric of human existence, the story of our lives, is not perfect. We may have uncertainties, we may make mistakes, we may make bad decisions, but the outcomes are not final. We can reweave the pattern or mend the broken thread -- but to do so takes a strength of character, and a strength of heart.  This book is about finding that courage.

(After reading the book, I went to the author's website, which delighted me for many reasons, including her "about" note and the wonderful pictures of her family back in Greece. I can see where she got some of her ideas for the story, but the imagery that brought it to life for me was her own skill with words.)


  1. This is a writer with whom I am not at all familiar but your description of the story makes it sound just like the sort of book I'd identify with. Will keep a watch out for Henriette. Thanks for posting this review.

  2. I can't say it's the *best* book I've read, but it surely hit a warm spot for me. :)