On an autumnal afternoon in Oxford, my mother & I were wandering around Waterstones, browsing the gorgeous stacks of books before we visited the Ashmolean.
Taking a book down from one of the shelves, my mother noted the beautiful cover and read the blurb aloud to me. It sounded idyllic. As I was telling her she should buy it as a memento of our time in Oxford, a girl who must have been in her early 20s interrupted us.
“Excuse me,” she said, “but I couldn’t help overhearing. I loved that book so much. You must buy it. It’s just so beautiful, I couldn’t recommend it enough.”
Well, with a glowing review like that, how were we going to leave it behind?
We took it home and my mother read it first, telling me, “I did enjoy it, but nothing really happens.” And then I read it, and was immediately transported to a small Greek village in the 1940s.
The book was Three Summers.
Who wrote it?
Margarita Liberaki. Beautiful name!
How long is it?
272 pages in my Penguin edition. Although it’s not a long book, it can take a while to read because the plot isn’t so much of a page-turner; the entire book feels more like you’re simply bathing in the hot Greek sun. You always want it to last a little longer.
So, what happens?
The book focuses on three sisters – Maria, Infanta, and Katerina. We mainly see everything from Katerina’s perspective as she recounts three summers that changed the course of her sisters lives. Having grown up as a close unit, the girls are becoming women, and moving on to have families of their own, or dreaming of what their lives will one day become.
It’s captivating, enchanting, nostalgic, and heartwrenching in equal measure.
What are my thoughts?
In Welsh, we have a word – ‘hiraeth’ – that’s untranslatable. It’s an aching, a longing, for something which has long since left us. It’s almost a homesickness. When you’re away from Wales, hiraeth eventually pulls you home.
Reading Three Summers was like experiencing hiraeth in somebody else’s life – a girl living in 1940s Greece, to be precise. We watch Katerina and her sisters grow from youngsters who enjoy parties with their friends, to sophisticated women – one married and with children. This development is one that really pulls on your heartstrings when you look back at where they started, so full of carefree youthful hope, and realise life hasn’t quite turned out how they’d hoped.
For me, the character of Katerina was a complicated and interesting one. She has the teenage angst we see in many coming-of-age novels coupled with the turbulent emotions of a young girl in love. Sometimes she’ll do things for no particular reason, acting out as a teenager would. I would have loved to have studied her for an English Lit essay in school – there would be so much to say!
I actually learned from the introduction that Greek schoolchildren do study this book and I can understand why. The setting is so rich and there’s so much to explore when it comes to the character development throughout. If you read it, you’ll understand what I mean.