The House by the River
Translated by Gail Holst-Warhaft
Psichogios Publications 2007
Amazon Crossing 2017
546 pages, ebook, paperback, audiobook, MP3 CD
Women’s Lit, Family
I honestly cannot remember how I acquired this book. My Amazon account says I paid nothing for it, so it may have come from a rep or I may have gotten it on one of those sales. However, this is my honest review and I am not being compensated for it in any way. However I got the book, I am sincerely glad I did. I put off reading it because the cover didn’t entice me. Finally I decided it was time. Everything has its time. That’s sort of what this book says. That and so much more.
This book is about a woman, Theodora, who loses her husband. He steps on a nail and ends up with septicemia and won’t allow the doctor to amputate the leg. He had seen too many men with amputated legs after the war and thought they were not still men. He couldn’t accept that happening to him. So he knowingly denied treatment and died. His wife was left with five daughters to raise. Each of the daughters left in her time.
Julia was the first to leave. She meets Fokas Karapanos who was an engineer in Thessaloniki. She has severe problems with her MIL and they end up going off to build in Africa. Julia has three children including a daughter that she names for her MIL. They reconcile in letters over time. Fokas ends up getting killed.
Melissanthi is the next to leave. She meets Apostolas Fatouras, who is a tobacco plantation owner and very rich. He lives in Athens. He’s older than Melissanthi and eventually has health problems. Melissanthi can’t understand why her husband has withdrawn from her so completely and she ends up taking a lover, Angelos. She finds out about her husband’s condition. She tries to end the affair by leaving Angelos, but he finds her. She breaks off the affair again because Angelos’ mother has seen them together and demands an end to it. Angelos commits suicide. Then she discovers she is pregnant by Angelos. She tells her husband, who immediately starts acting as if nothing is wrong. This is their child and they are to be very happy about finally having a child, an heir. Things are wonderful for a few years, until Apostolos (the son) dies of a genetic defect. Within the week, Apostolos (the husband) dies also.
Aspasia is the third daughter to leave home. She meets Stavros Mantekas who lives in Larissa and is a driver for a dry goods company. Soon he gets a promotion and is the manager of a branch in Kalamata and they move.They have two daughters, Stella and Theodora. The marriage is not working out at all and Aspasia and Stavros plan to divorce. Stella dies. They divorce and Theodora is given the choice of which parent she will live with. Stavros expects her to say him, but Theodora realizes her mother needs her emotionally and she chooses to go with her mother.
Magdalini is the next to go. She leaves not with a husband, but with her Aunt Anna who has come home for a visit. Magdalini wants education, not a husband. America, where Aunt Anna lives is where she can get a good education. But there are men there, too. And Aunt Anna lives in Chicago. Magdalini meets Franco. They have two children, Charles and Theodora (Doris). Franco’s in a dangerous business which is not any business for women to have their noses in. But Magdalini isn’t the typical company wife. She’s aware of a lot of what’s going on and wants Charley, Franco’s father, and Franco out of the company. Charley sort of retires and spends lot of time enjoying his grandchildren. Then he is killed. Then Franco and their son Charles are killed.
Polynexi is the last at home. She dreams of acting and being adored by the masses. One man will not be enough for her. She runs off with a troupe of traveling players who immediately realize how lucky they are when they see what she can actually do on the stage. She’s a natural and learns from each role and from watching people. She and the only other female in the troupe leave and hook up with Martha’s friend Stathis. Martha and Stathis work on Polynexi to polish her and get her into the movies. She changes her name. She becomes the big star she dreamt of being. She acquires admirers as well, but turns them all away. One, Leonidas must have her. She reads a review that says she was no good in a love scene because she has no experience. So she accepts Leonidas to get some experience, in spite of the fact that she feels absolutely nothing for him. Even when she breaks off the relationship after a year and he commits suicide in front of her. She does eventually find one man who makes her feel something, but he has no use for her. Martha and Stathis die in a car accident. She’s at the top of her craft and she has no one.
The house by the river now only holds two old women. Julia is 80 and her daughter, Theodora does nothing but complain about how empty her house and her life are since her five daughters left her. That was years ago. Finally, Julia convinces Theodora that life does go on. Theodora renovates her mother’s house next door and also has some work done on her own house. She works in her garden and enjoys her life again for what it is. She stops complaining. She once again smiles.
The first to return is Melissanthi, alone. Then Aspasia with Theodora. And Polyxenia with Vassiliki, her maid who has become her close friend. Then Magdalini with Aunt Anna and Doris. And finally, Julia with her MIL, Hara, Evanthia, Theodora, and her African companion, Faida. The two houses by the river are again full of women and they all share their stories and their pains. Theodora and Julia have grand and great grandchildren to love and spoil now. And the five daughters are in a place where they can heal and be at peace.
I have given you a lot here, and yet I have barely given you a glimpse of what this 546 page novel has to share. The characters were all different and wonderfully created. The story with its six aspects is wonderful. The pace was easy to read, fast enough without killing you. The tension never let go because there was always something happening in the life of these women. It holds happiness, sadness, contentment, pain, devastation, success, failure, goodbyes and hellos. It is full of what life dishes out and how people may handle it all. Lena Manta offers up this story of these women and their lives and loves for our consumption. I wallowed in it. It is a wonderful read. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.