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The Secret Sister Paperback – January 6, 2015
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"A hauntingly poignant look at the secret lives and memories of those with whom we consider ourselves closest and the ways in which places can be defined for generations by the secrets we keep and the truths we reveal." — World Literature Today
About the Author
Born in Athens, Greece, Fotini Tsalikoglou studied psychology at the University of Geneva. She is the author of many celebrated novels published in Greece, including Eros Pharmakopoios, I Dreamed I Was Well, and I, Martha Freud. Tsalikoglou is currently a professor of psychology at Panteion University in Athens and a regular contributor to the Athens daily To Vima. The Secret Sister is her English language debut.
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Top Customer Reviews
What follows is a complex conversation in which two people, Jonathan and his sister Amalia, through changing times and places, discuss with each other their shared childhoods and differing memories. The author's use of italics to set off one speaker from the other is helpful, as Jonathan remembers his grandparents, their emigration from Greece to New York, and his own life as a boy without a father. The novel jumps around without warning, as he comments to himself about the plane trip and his decision to travel to Greece, interspersing observations in the present with memories from his past. Ultimately, the novel becomes Jonathan's story, and the past haunts every aspect of it.
The narrative, a series of brief reminiscences by Jonathan, Amalia, and their grandmother, requires the reader to pay careful attention to the text as it explores the complex meanings of identity and the importance of the past in determining one's future. Because it is so short (only 116 pages), and so limited in its exploration of the background of the several characters, the reader must depend on the author (and translator, Mary Kitroeff) for the context clues which explain Jonathan's journey, reveal his state of mind as he begins it, and justify his need for Amalia as a companion on the journey.
For some readers the information provided here may not be enough to make the main character's decision to go to Greece feel like the natural outgrowth of his experience, or make the ultimate fates of two other characters feel inevitable. The writing is intense, psychological, and filled with the mysteries of life both in the present and in the past, and how much influence these mysteries may have on the main characters is suggested, rather than stated. Some readers may diverge from the author's suggestions that we cannot escape the past - that we become who we are by the accidents of fate. Others may feel that we have more control over the present than what we see in the lives of Jonathan and Amalia. Many tantalizing questions remain as the novella comes to a close. Readers looking for a change of pace and an analysis of how much we may all be connected to and controlled by family secrets will find this novella a treasure trove of suggestions.
As noted on this book’s cover, Fortini Tsalikoglou’s novel indeed “explores the blurred line between history and memory.” While the short length of the novel does not permit detailed character development, the stream-of-consciousness writing style admirably fleshes out the story. Some readers might question Jonathan’s motive in embarking on such a long journey of discovery; however, it is his psychological frame of mind, muddled by family secrets, that Tsalikoglou portrays as one from which he cannot escape. Similar to Faulkner’s famous quote, Tsalikoglou notes: “The past is never over. It isn’t even past.” Nevertheless, the narrative is not an easy read, and were it not for the book’s evocative cover, and the informative flap and back cover text, the plot would take a huge effort to comprehend.
This review first appeared in the HNR magazine issue 73 (August 2015)
Thank you GoodReads for the book.