Wasn’t it Thomas Wolfe who said you can’t go home again? Well, maybe he was wrong. In the endearing, intimate saga that is The House By the River, the daughters of Theodora and Gerasimos, couldn’t wait to leave their home by the river in a small isolated village in the shadow of Mount Olympus in Greece. Twenty years later, they all returned to stay. Two were widowed, one was divorced, one never married.
The House By the River is the first novel by this popular Greek author, Lena Manta, to be translated into English. It is a quite lengthy, yet evocative story of a young widow whose five intelligent, beautiful, and lively daughters wanted to explore the world. Some wanted careers, some did not, but all had challenging, exciting, yet disappointing lives. It’s a story of joy and heartbreak, of crime and passion, and of the undying love of a mother for her children.
The story opens during World War II, and continues through the 1960s or 70s. There was something about the river that flowed near their childhood home that drew everyone to it. When times got tough, as they always can, the girls’s thoughts drifted back to that river. Theodora was heartbroken when, one by one, her girls left home, but she made sure each one understood she would always be welcomed back at any time.
Some important issues were raised — issues that will make for great book club discussion. Among them were:
- Education for women: As a young girl, Anna asked herself, “Is that really how a civilized society is made? Only men get to know how to read and write?”
- Regret for words unspoken: “There’s nothing [worse] than holding words inside that should have been spoken…”
- Apartheid: “…the thorn in Cameroon’s flesh was … the exploitation by white people….”
- repeated misplacement of the word “only” within a sentence;
- using “bring” when “take” should have been used;
- using “handfuls” when “handsful” should have been used;
- and numerous split infinitives.