|Formats: Hardcover||Publishers: Harper Collins Canada|
I am always excited to hear Vendela Vida has a new book out. Her stories are usually set in exciting locales and her characters are strong women determined to navigate life on their own after a tragedy befalls them. In "And Now You Can Go", partly set in the Phillipines, a young woman talks a suicidal gunman out of killing them both; in Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, set in Lapland, the crime is rape; and in "The Lovers" it is an accident that drives our 53-year old protagonist (Yvonne) to return to Datcha, a coastal village in Istanbul. Spot the common link? Rage and violence and then a trip to a foreign land in search of oneself. Apparently, this is deliberate and Vida is very conscious of creating a trilogy of sorts with these three titles. Now, back to the story:
After Yvonne loses Peter, her husband and love of her life, to a "hit and run", she decides (after a period of mourning) to return to Datcha, a coastal village in Istanbul, which is where they had their honeymoon twenty-eight years ago. She was scheduled to stay there for a week until the cruise ship that her son and his wife were sailing on, picked her up from Datcha. Her reasons for returning to Datcha are clear: she wants to know if the grief she feels at Peter's death can be obliterated by the good memories of their honeymoon...
Like with most places, time hadn't been real kind to Datcha and everything she saw, the beach, the houses, the roads, just seemed shabbier and less vibrant..."the beach was filthy. Small plastic bags, gelatinous in the sun, had been deposited by the tide on the strand."
“Half the restaurants had been shut down. The remaining ones displayed sick-looking fish on beds of crushed gray ice. With soiled rags, waiters shooed away mangy cats trolling for food. A sprinkling of tourists speaking German sat outside the cafes, their skin sunburned to a peculiar shade of orange.”
Still, she stays on in a nice house that she rented from Turkish businessman Ali Celik and soon became friends with his wife Ozlem. Ozlem and Ali were in the process of getting a divorce and Yvonne soon became Ozlem's sounding board for all the wretchedness that was going on in her marriage. But it was a symbiotic relationship because in Ozlem Yvonne found someone who could show her the ropes and a non-judgmental curiosity about her life with Peter.
Along with Ozlem and Ali, other people that pass through Yvonne's life as she holidays in Turkey is a 10-year old boy who reminds her of her son Matt when he was small. Ahmet's grandmother is the owner of of one of the resorts in Knidos but because she is too busy for the boy, Ahmet spends all day on the beach collecting shells from the Aegean Sea....the lonely figure he cuts on the beach is what endears him to Yvonne and soon she is befriending him much to the dislike of some of the locals, until tragedy strikes and she is forced to face their hatred head on.
There is undeniably a very melancholic air to the book with a few menacing details, but one that is nonetheless uplifting. I will admit to taking a while to get into the book - I found the protagonist a little too gloomy with a penchant for navel gazing and/or looking backward - but once I was over that hump, I was able rediscover the Vendela Vida magic. Because it's more of a novella and has very interesting descriptions of Turkey, I will even recommend this as a great summer read!
What you take away from Vendela Vida's "The Lovers" will depend on what stage of life you're at. A young person reading this is likely to have a very different view of the book than a middle-aged woman. Regardless of the age, however, I feel quite certain that every reader will enjoy the book and the way it explores memories. The title might be a little misleading though, because although there are many "lovers" in the book, including an owl pining for its mate, you realize that Yvonne herself seems lost and unanchored and probably, saddest of all, she concludes that her marriage it not what she thought it was.
I am very grateful to Harper Collins, Canada for making a copy of this book available for me to read.