Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Book Review: 'The Water and the Wine' by Tamar Hodes

The Water and the Wine by Tamar Hodes
‘On an island, eventually, you are bound to meet yourself’

Israeli born British author Tamar Hodes blends reality with fiction in this quintessential 1960s flavored novel of art and relationship changes. Tamar was born in Israel, lived in Greece and South Africa, and settled in the UK where she read English and Education at Homerton College, Cambridge. She has been teaching English in schools, universities and prisons while writing for Radio 4 and others in anthologies including Salt's The Best British Short Stories 2015, The Pigeonhole, Your One Phone Call, the Ofi Press, MIR online and Fictive Dream. The ‘biographical input: her parents took her to the Greek Island of Hydra where her neighbors were indeed Leonard Cohen, his girlfriend Marianne, and other writers and artists on Hydra. 

Tamar paints her story with a broad saturated brush that defines both the atmosphere and the realities of Hydra, as her opening paragraphs attest – ‘Like its artistic inhabitants, Hydra was creative. It painted the earth with purple orchids, wrote itself into the history books and even made its own music: the hum of chatter in the air; the clink of coffee cups at the harbour café, and the light bells on the donkeys as they ambled along the cobbles. Cocks crowed their rough chorus and the single bell chapel at the Monastery of the Virgin’s Assumption added its tinny percussion on the hour. Leaving the boat, the Silver family felt as caught in the island’s magic as the shiny fish wriggling in the yellow nets. Frieda held Esther’s hand but Gideon walked on ahead. Jack, tall and bearded, thanked the boatman, Mikalis, and his good-looking, shirtless son, Spyros, who had tied the rope to keep the boat steady. The family took their luggage and followed signs to Douskos’ Taverna, where wicker tables and chairs were arranged beneath a dark pine. A thin wisteria threaded itself through the tree, releasing its subtle scent into the spring air. Jack shook hands with the owner of the bar, greeting him with Kaliméra, and handed over a piece of paper. The publishers had given him an advance for his book and arranged the family’s accommodation. Douskos was swarthy and dark, stockily built, his white shirt and trousers immaculate. His wife, Polixenes, was sweeping away dead leaves, broken glass and candle wax from the previous night’s revels. Douskos gestured for the family to sit and ordered drinks for them, while he went outside. Then the family saw her for the first time: The Gardenia Dwarf. A tiny old lady, her body and head cloaked in black, a white bloom just discernible, tucked behind her ear. Like her daughter, she was sweeping the stone floor, but the large broom looked unwieldy. She mumbled something which the Silver family did not understand. They finished their drinks and went outside where three donkeys were waiting, flat wooden saddles on their backs for carrying loads, the ‘mule boys’ sullenly at their sides. The cobbles beneath them bubbled in the sun. Douskos looked expectantly at Jack for some coins; once received, he vanished.’

The terse synopsis seduces us into the full book – ‘It is the 1960s and a group of young writers and artists gather on the Greek island of Hydra. Leonard Cohen is at the start of his career and in love with Marianne, who is also muse to her ex-husband, Axel. Australian authors George Johnston and Charmian Clift write, drink and fight. It is a hedonistic time of love, sex and new ideas. As the island hums with excitement, Jack and Frieda Silver join the community, hoping to mend their broken marriage. However, Greece is overtaken by a military junta and the artistic idyll is threatened.’

Well turned storylines excellent character development, and a generous portion of the world as lived in the 60 make this a very fine treasure of a book. Recommended. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.