The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
|The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A spice box of letters links modern day Katerina with the 1915 Turkish Armenian genocide in a beautifully (and graphically) told story of how life, love and laughter can be reclaimed after tragedy.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: March 2015|
|Publisher: Sandstone Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Katerina's Armenian grandmother Mariam dies leaving her and her mother a journal in Armenian and a spice box full of mysterious letters. They're special to them both because they're the legacy of a much loved relative but totally indecipherable to the monolingually English pair. However a holiday abroad to get over a recent break up brings a random encounter for Katerina. When Katerina meets Ara she also meets the key to her grandmother's secret past.
This is the fourth novel from Nottingham based, Greek-Cypriot heritage author Eve Makis. Her previous books have either been set in Cyprus (The Land of the Golden Apple) or have looked at the results of transplanting that culture in the UK (the witty My Mother-in-Law and Eat Drink and Be Married). This time she looks a little further afield; at the Armenians driven out of Turkey in 1915 and their lives during the events that came to be described as a genocide, as well as the survivors' lives afterwards.
Eve has researched extensively, talking to various former Turkish Armenian families to include their experiences and the recollections passed to them by family members with first-hand accounts. The massacre was a two phased process which started in April 1915 with Turks slaughtering or consigning to forced labour all able bodied Armenian-descended boys and men. Then the women, children and elderly were deported via death marches into the Syrian Desert. It's estimated that between 8,000,000 and 1.5 million died by the time it was considered complete after World War I.
In her fictionalisation Eve pulls no punches and it would be inappropriate and disrespectful of her to do so. So when the shocks and realisation starts to hit Katerina during her research it also hits us because, unlike Katerina, we have travelled back in time to get to know Mariam as a young girl. We watch alongside her as a world based on family, cultural ties and traditions is shaken and torn apart.
However this is no misery memoir but an attraction of attention to the event followed by a hymn to resilience. Where there is life there is still hope and love. Indeed Katerina views the past through the prism of her own burgeoning romance. That's not a spoiler; as soon as Katerina meets him we all smile and nod to ourselves but that's not a bad thing. In the light of the sudden, devastating violence that occurs in our real time but her pre-birth history, the predictability of Katerina's life is a reassuring balance.
There are also some moments of gentle laughter because this, after all, is an Eve Makis novel so it encapsulates the humour of the everyday. I particularly loved the elderly Armenian character (no names as even that's a spoiler) who has to face the idea that their daughter is marrying a Greek Cypriot and suffers far from silently throughout a family dinner at which the new fiancé is present. Once again Eve shows her talent by creating people who rise up from the page demanding – and deserving – a hug.
Indeed Eve's works normally sum up the totality of life: the joy, the darkness and the moments that warm and uplift. Here she combines it with an education and, in doing so, ensures we won't forget either facet.
(A huge thank you to Sandstone Press for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: Eve's work has been compared favourably with Victoria Hislop's. If you'd like to test this out for yourself, we recommend The Thread. If you feel affected by the accounts of the Armenian genocide and would like to read more about it, we recommend The Gendarme by Mark Mustian.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis at Amazon.com.
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