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Remorse, Numbness and Enlightenment: Slight SPOILER

  • Feb 10, 2013
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In "The Clover House," Henriette Lazaridis Power tells a memorable and compelling story whose larger theme revolves around the universal mistake many people lovingly make as they attempt to get to the bottom of some issue or fix something that cannot be mended no matter how good their intention, how industrious their pursuit for resolution or how commonsense and pop psychology might dictate that disclosure acts as a soul and mind-cleansing panacea. Power illustrates the life lesson of "leaving well enough alone" amidst the backdrop of the Carnival season in modern Greece with flashbacks to an earlier time during the Italian occupation circa 1940 and the partisan resistance against the Germans in the years that follow. The result is a gentle story of realization to leave the past behind, centering oneself and looking forward to the future.

Callie or Calliope, as her Greek family in Patras calls her, is a Greek American living in Boston with her latest boyfriend Jonah. While Jonah wants the commitment of marriage to strengthen their comfortable relationship, Callie is uncertain; her relationship with her reserved and secretive mother Clio is paramount on her list of To-Do things to rectify in the near future. When Callie's Uncle Nestor dies, leaving Callie the contents of his house to the chagrin of her mother, Callie thankfully puts her Jonah issues on hold and travels to Greece to spearhead the sorting of Nestor's possessions with the intention of finally determining the cause of her mother's obvious past unhappiness now underscored painfully by Nestor's bequest and her mother's negative reaction to Callie's plan of action. Intuitively, Callie decides that her mother has something to hide and the key to discerning what that is lies in the boxes of memorabilia and mementos stored in Nestor's house.

Power uses individual chapters to change the perspective and the time period. Callie's narrative is told in almost a naïve first person; on a larger level she is the quintessential second, third or fourth generation European-American. She views her world from an American vantage point that Power points out can be innocent to the sufferings of the motherland's previous generations during the upheavals of war, government and ideology change. Clio, as a veritable muse of family history, a keeper of secrets so sad she can no longer find the joy in the small things of everyday, relegates her daughter's realm to one of inexperience with regard to what suffering can really be. The pivotal moments that transform her from childhood to uneasy adulthood are relayed in the third person where the author takes the time to describe the family farm as an oasis to a young girl's dreams and the clover house a place that epitomizes the turning point from innocence and possibilities that might have existed if it weren't for willfulness, betrayal and simple happenstance. Power succeeds in creating two women with two different voices who have been touched and are somewhat numbed by the rippling effects of circumstance.

For Callie, and perhaps the reader, the saga of Greek history during the time of World War II and the post war years, is not well-known--just forgotten sentences in a book from World History class that suggest occupation and political upheaval that pitted brother against brother. Because the reader is as unaware as main character Callie, Power might add a few expository pages in the back of the novel to give a brief history of Greece during not only this time but before and afterwards with the intention of underlying the sad and gruesome effect on its people.

Also needing some clarification in a manner similar to that suggested regarding the history of Greece, its occupancies and power struggles is the famous Patras Carnival. This reviewer is certain that most readers know little about this Mardi Gras-type activity that takes place for weeks before the actual Fat Tuesday event with its many traditions indigenous only to Greece and that are not celebrated in other Carnival cities like New Orleans. Of specific interest to Power's storyline is the Bourbouli--a dance where only women are masked, thereby anonymous and perhaps conduct not-so-clandestine alliances that would not be condoned societally at other times. More information regarding this, and other Patras Carnival events would increase the value of this laissez-les-bons-temps-roulez atmosphere chosen by the author as the perfect backdrop for Callie's escape from Boston.

Bottom line? Greek-American Henriette Lazarides Power in her novel "The Clover House" writes a coming-of-age story that will definitely entertain most readers with its quest for a seemingly unloved daughter finding solace in probing secrets from the past that contribute to the aloofness of her glamorous mother. Some may find main character Callie's journey from discovery through enlightenment too subtle and perhaps devoid of any real "ah-ha" moments. However, this reviewer enjoyed the interplay of Carnival time in Patras with the Callie's escapist needs as well as the author's ability to induce a sense of numbness to Callie's mother, Clio, a woman whose suffering past forces her to insure herself against ever feeling anything again. More information regarding Greece's turbulent history of occupation and political struggle as well as more details of the Patras Carnival events including in an appendix at the book's end would definitely add to the novel's strength in terms of understanding the Greek vantage point. Recommended as a thoroughly good read that I looked forward during each hiatus to picking up again and continue exploring. Mary Stewart's, "My Brother Michael" explores the aftermath of WWII in Greece in a suspenseful tale of betrayal that readers of "Clover House" may also enjoy.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
Ranked #166
I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … more
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Advance praise forThe Clover House
“A rare treat: an elegantly written debut about a family mystery set during wartime, the slipperiness of memory, and the challenges of forgiveness . . .Read it, read it!”—Jenna Blum, author of Those Who Save Us 
“Layered and complex, The Clover Houseis a provocative examination of family secrets and the things we inherit. Henriette Lazaridis Power immerses the reader in a world of tradition and resilience, creating characters who linger long beyond their final pages. This isone of the best books I’ve read in a long time.”—Brunonia Barry, author ofThe Lace Reader
“Sharply observed and evocative,The Clover Houseis a riveting story about desire, the cost of silence, and the power of a hidden secret from the past to change everything about the present.This debut is a gem.”—Dawn Tripp, author ofGame of Secrets
The Clover Houseisa tremendously readable storyof how family secrets reverberate, how war can force impossible choices, and how a very modern woman faces old longings for her mother’s love and a true home. This is a smart and lovely novel.”—Holly Lecraw, author ofThe Swimming Pool
“Readers will feel theeloquently writtenquandary of Henriette Lazaridis Power’s vivid and troubled protagonist, a woman with one foot in Greece and the other in America; a woman who, like so many immigrants and first-generation ...
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