I learned of this book on Twitter. The title went so well with my goal of reading seasonally that I found an e-book version on from my library and started to read it right away. An additional interest was that it is set in Greece. Not being fascinated by mythology, I haven’t read much set in or about Greece unless you count biographies of the late Danish-Greek Prince Philip. Add to this the fact that a few of my favorite book bloggers have/are reading it this summer and you can see why I wanted in on the story.
“That summer we bought big straw hat. Maria’s had cherries around the rim, Infanta’s had forget-me-nots, and mine had poppies as red as fire” (p. 6).
Set in pre-World War II Greece, the story centers on three sisters, Maria, Infanta, and Katarina–the daughters of a divorced couple who live in the country. It is that time in life when boys go from being a girl’s friend to being her future. Each of the girls has her own personality, her own dreams, and desires.
From the awakening of sexual desire through to motherhood the girls travel at their own pace, plotting their course to womanhood with guidance, wanted and unwanted, from their mother, a maiden aunt, their grandfather and friends.
“The scent of dung and milk, thyme and billy goat met her. It rose and mixed in with the heat until it became something you could actually touch” (p. 52).
So much of the writing is so beautiful, it is hard to remember that this is a translation. As I read the descriptions of the landscape, the scents, the way of life, I felt I was there.
“[Some] were saying dissatisfied women live in their own imaginary world, that is, they’re deluded….Dissatisfied women are simply unsuccessful women” (p. 105).
Ouch, I thought. A discordant note.
I loved the way the secrets unfolded gradually and in a manner consistent with real life. I liked too that these were real girls–they went off in huffs, they flounced out, they fell in love, they daydreamed, they escaped the control of their mother whenever possible. All perfectly normal. I loved that. And then one would remark, “I like life a lot” (p.198) and another would stare out a window “as if to ask the night why life was so strange” (p. 108).
On the surface this is a lovely story, but underneath, in the thoughts of the boys, one can see just how radically different the thinking was back then. While men may still think like this in the deepest recesses of their minds, most do not verbalize, let alone, act on such thoughts.
“The more she restrained herself, the more angry he grew. He wanted to beat her. If only he dared….” (p. 127).
Every woman’s life is a search for a master. Ah, the thirst for submission, the thirst for submission….” (p. 127).
“And that head of hers that she carried so high…He must break her, make her lower it….”
These sentiments, it is true, are surrounded with the man’s love for the girl, with his expression of desire, and of how he would enjoy her, but it is very unsettling to read such statements today.
“You should see…on really hot days, when you lie out on the ledge of the cistern and close your eyes, and then open them a little later, how a thousand little suns leap up and down before your eyes and all around water is reflected o the trunks of the pines, trembling and golden, like little waves, and everything glows, everything, and it makes you want to laugh” (p. 226).
In spite of the beauty of the language, I just did not connect with this book they way I thought I would. There were times when I grew bored and restless and put it down. Yes, it could be the every-present COVID reading-ennui, but I think this time it was the book. My rating means it is a perfectly good book, well worth reading–especially for the excellence of the translation. I’m certainly glad I kept at it–it was worth it to see Greece at that time and to see how alike girls are regardless of their era of history.
Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki, translated by Karen Van Dyck