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The House by the River Paperback – November 1, 2017
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“In the first of bestselling Greek writer Manta’s works to be translated into English, she demonstrates her keen perception into the human heart…Gripping, intricate story lines and [a] touching finale.” —Booklist
“In this poignant chronicle, Lena Manta examines the lives of five individual girls who leave their home. While their departures are typical, the possibility of their return forms the intriguing premise of this novel…The strong prose and descriptions of Greece and other locales are engrossing.” —Historical Novel Society
“A gripping and deeply touching novel, The House by the River was the page-turner of my reading month, more sentimental than I typically go in for, but intricate and well wrought. Can we ever really go home? Manta has some ideas.” —Words Without Borders
About the Author
Lena Manta was born in Istanbul, Turkey, to Greek parents. She moved to Greece at a very young age and now lives with her husband and two children on the outskirts of Athens. Although she studied to be a nursery school teacher, Lena instead directed her own puppet theater before writing articles for local newspapers and working as a director for a local radio station. Manta was proclaimed Author of the Year in both 2009 and 2011 by Greek Life & Style magazine. She has written thirteen books, all of them published by Psichogios Publications, including the bestselling The House by the River, which has sold almost 250,000 copies and is the first of her books to be translated into English. Hers is a voice to be reckoned with, and each new book is a tour de force in the Greek publishing world.
Gail Holst-Warhaft is a poet and translator and has worked as a journalist, broadcaster, prose writer, academic, and musician. Among her many publications are Road to Rembetika, Theodorakis: Myth and Politics in Modern Greek Music, The Collected Poems of Nikos Kavadias, Dangerous Voices: Women’s Laments and Greek Literature, The Cue for Passion: Grief and Its Political Uses, I Had Three Lives: Selected Poems of Mikis Theodorakis, and Penelope’s Confession. She has published translations of Aeschylus and several of Greece’s leading novelists and poets. Her poems and translations have appeared in journals in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Her Kavadias translations won the Van der Bovenkamp award from Columbia University’s Translation Center, and her poem “Three Landscapes” won the Poetry Greece Award in 2001. The Fall of Athens, her most recent collection of poetry, essays, and stories about Greece, is forthcoming from Fomite Press.
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There is an intense focus on intimacy in this book. Not only is there an intense focus on intimacy, but there are often times darker components, as there are darker components to the entire book. This is NOT a light read. But I would like to make it clear that this isn't erotica. It's one step up from "fade to black". That may bother some, and in that case they absolutely should be warned!!! However, erotica and non-graphic intimacy are not the same thing.
Don't misunderstand, intimacy IS a big part of this book, and there IS some mild description, but at no point does it become an erotica novel. As a side note, there is no language at all, not even garden variety.
And now with all that being said, I'd really like to get to at least some of the reasons why this book so captivated me. It so captivated me because of its beautifully lyrical prose, set against the backdrop of life's pain, in a distant world brought to vivid life. I knew from the first paragraph of the sample chapters that this book would be my kindle first choice for the month, but at the time I didn't realize just how much of a tragedy it would be. Nor did I realize how haunting and enthralling I would find it. There is SO much loss in this book. Death, suicide, loss of self and family... And yet each time I thought it was finally too much and I was done, the haunting prose pulled me back in again.
I have called the writing in other books beautiful, but none of them have been the same as this. This book is something other. Something different. It was beautiful, and painful, and most of all hypnotic. I almost stopped reading more times than I cared to count, but for that same number of times I couldn't put it down. I couldn't let go. I spent most of the book closer to tears than I'm ever publicly going to admit in a review, and to that same end, refuse to discuss the last chapters... Or how I felt as I read them.
In all the revisions I've made to this review I've come to fear that I've lost my original emotion. This isn't the review I wrote when I felt most passionate. That review conveyed so much more of the painful beauty I found in this book, but it is what it is, and I made the choice to revise it. But, if you love dramas, tragedies, and endings that will haunt you long after you've finished, then take a chance on this book.
Last of all, I leave my favorite passage: "Life doesn't end, my daughter. It flows forever, like the river. Except that you're in a boat now, and you're the one holding the oars."
If you are going to read just one book this year, read the House by the River.
If this content poses no problem for you, then please see the brilliant review by Gingerbread, who gave a fantastic treatment of The House By The River.
* * * *
I am at a stopping point in this book, which is unusual with my chosen Kindle First selections. I was eager to read this title, but now I have to put it down-- for a while. Be that a day, a week, or indefinitely, I do not know.
I do want to see it through. I am invested in the characters, especially Theodora, with whom I quickly identify. I care deeply about the compelling story. The writing is excellent. The translator and editor do fantastic jobs, as well. It is a beautifully haunting novel.
I love so much about The House By The River, so why have I not completed it? I am a fan of closure, so it has thrown me. It embarrasses me to say that there is just so much focus on sex-- including marital (near addiction-level with some risk-taking behaviors), extramarital affairs (many), and near-rape scenarios.
I began to feel like my tablet should be wrapped in brown paper, though again, some of this may be my discomfort. Still, this story is not pornographic; there is no language to offend. I am, most certainly, not in my element. To be fair, I am squeamish on this topic after having been hurt in the past. However, as such, I have the heart to warn others who may be like me. Necessarily, this is not a story for younger audiences, lest they get an advanced education.
I wish that a numerical star rating was unnecessary for this review. I would like to give the story 5 stars. It is rough for me because of the extraordinary, predominant focus on the sexual that makes me want to give it 1-star. Such a grade would be a travesty. Since I cannot divide it into two ratings, I am splitting the difference and giving it 3 stars for now. I sincerely hope to revisit the score after completing the work, but I must see about that in the future.
The book keeps a running analogy about a river. Theodoro, the mother of five girls, gives them all life advice to see them through whatever life has in store for them and wherever they go. She warned that the river could carry them away. At one point she states that the young women are in boats and they have the oars. They have the control, in other words.
My warning may be unnecessary to most, but a life jacket to others. You have the power to choose if this is a book for you. If you can handle it, you will not likely be disappointed.
With my history, I have my life preserver on and am having to navigate my boat carefully through rough waters. To others, it is smoother sailing. We are all different. All is ultimately well.