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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Three Summers

Margarita Liberaki

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To purchase Three Summers

Title: Three Summers
Author: Margarita Liberaki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1946 (Eng. 1995)
Length: 240 pages
Original in: Greek
Availability: Three Summers - US
Three Summers - UK
Three Summers - Canada
Trois étés - France
Tre estati - Italia
  • Greek title: Τα ψάθινα καπέλα
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Karen Van Dyck

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing family/coming-of-age tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 17/4/2019 .
TLS . 24/1/2020 Theodora Danek

  From the Reviews:
  • "Liberakiís dreamy, modernist gem of a novel (.....) This is an elegant and striking novel." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The world of the novel seems suspended in time, and with its aura of bourgeois comfort the plot could easily be transferred to fifty years earlier, or later. In Karen Van Dyck’s excellent translation (which was first published in 1995), Liberaki’s allusive, impressionistic style recalls Marguerite Duras, while the focus on young women is reminiscent of Françoise Sagan. (...) There is a dreaminess to the novel, helped along by the uneven, fragmentary narrative structure. It is at its strongest when it zeroes in on its female characters and their perceptions of the world, but Liberakiís refusal to stick to the conventional rules of storytelling is another of her strengths." - Theodora Danek, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Three Summers covers three years in the lives of a Greek family before the Second World War, the three daughters at varying stages on the way to adulthood, the eldest, Maria, around twenty that first summer and married and expecting her second child by the third, with her younger sisters Infanta and Katerina, each separated by roughly two years. Their parents are divorced and the girls live with their mother and Aunt Theresa in the countryside, while their father, a banker (nine to five, but otherwise more interested in: "his machines and his books"), lives with his mother and brother in Athens.
       The novel is (basically) narrated by the youngest girl, Katerina, who: "was curious and saw everything". She is not an entirely reliable narrator -- admitting, even, that:

     I have a tendency to make things up, to fabricate them and then later to think they're true.
       While much of the narrative is firmly in her voice, there are significant parts that go beyond her obvious ken, describing other characters' feelings and attitudes in a way that goes beyond just what she might read into them. There are also, for example, a few short exceprts from the diary of a secondary character, disconnected from Katerina's voice and perspective (it's not like she explains finding the diary, for example) -- all making for an odd and sometimes slightly disorienting looseness to the narrative, especially since much of Katerina's account is so strongly personal.
       There is a large cast of distinct characters. The three sisters are close, but very different. Maria seems most defined by her physical desires but she is also sure and determined about what future lies ahead for her; she sows some wild oats but then happily settles on the partner who was always meant for her, the aspiring doctor Marios, and she soon quickly settles into and embraces the physicality of motherhood.
       Infanta is headstrong in a different way, and much more guarded; her one passion is a horse she names Romeo (!) -- the one thing she lets herself get carried away by (literally and figuratively), to the chagrin of the boy who is drawn to her:
     "You certainly love that horse," he would say bitterly.
     "He helps me to overcome things," she would answer, laughing.
     "Overcome what ?"
     "Overcome life, the trees, the distance, I don't know. When I run with him I can overcome anything." She laughed.
     She told him about the day when, against her will, Romeo had started to gallop up the mountain and how nothing could stop him.
     "That's why I love him," she said.
     And when Maria saw her racing across the meadow, alone and free, she would say in a loud, preoccupied voice which sounded strange to her own ears, "How could anyone be so pure as Infanta ?"
       Katerina seems always to have gotten caught up in her own fantasy. Unsurprisingly, she is bookish -- "The books I read at this time filled my life, and thrilled me. I wanted to tell someone but I didn't know where to begin" -- and by the end she boasts of (well, mentions "absentmindedly") working on a novel (though it comes across, when she mentions it, as just another childish fancy that popped into her mind).
       While Maria seems at first the much wilder and more passionate sister, she recognizes Katerina's very different outlook:
     "You expect great things from life," she whispers. "Not me. You see, I know that what is really important can be found in the little, everyday things."
       The pull (and confusion) of romantic and sexual desire and relations are nearly omnipresent. The opening chapter is titled and about: 'Our Polish Grandmother', as the girls' maternal grandfather lost his wife when their mother was only five and Aunt Teresa seven -- though: "Death did not take her. She left of her own accord with a musician who was passing through Athens on a concert tour". She isn't mentioned in the household, though the girls discover a photograph and wonder about her; she remains a distant sort of presence -- and eventually there's more to this family secret that is revealed.
       The girls' parents are also separated, with their father having been unfaithful -- and now wanting to marry again. The girls also wonder about their mother's romantic interests and possible entanglements; there is some buried passion there, too, but she keeps it well-hidden, it emerging only when, for example, she plays the piano and she thinks no one can hear ..... Aunt Teresa, meanwhile, still hasn't gotten over the shock of a sexual assault when she was around the girls' age -- by her then-fiancé -- and remains marked by it; she is also particularly close to the cautious Infanta. And eventually Katerina too is increasingly torn by her desires, drawn to a star-gazing student.
       The novel is divided into three parts, covering consecutive summers (and a bit more), and follows the lives of the girls and those in their orbits. It is a busy and impressionistic novel, focused on Katerina but straying off frequently too. Liberaki nicely shifts back and forth between satisfied summer-languor and restlessness, and captures the indecisiveness and confusion of the three girls on the cusp of adulthood -- where Katerina, in particular, finds herself unsure of what she wants -- particularly well.
       If Katerina's voice is not always entirely convincing with its flashes of an implausible maturity, there's certainly a poetry to even the pared-down expression of the unlikely observations, capturing, for example, the general feel of so many of those summer days:
     The day is hot, the mind empty, the leaves motionless, the body and soul too. We try to give meaning to what we see.
       Three Summers is decidedly domestic. The countryside setting is a significant presence, yet also largely backdrop, while the occasional forays into Athens barely give any sense of city-busy-ness; there's barely any sense of the larger world, with politics and history almost entirely kept at bay ("It's strange to be a Zionist, but I guess it sometimes happens", Katerina observes, but it's hardly a political statement, just another novel concept she comes across and briefly mulls). The absence of almost anything that ties it to any specific period heightens the timeless feel of the novel. (An incidental mention of the Spanish (Civil) war does actually narrow it down, but that's about the extent of it.)
       Liberaki effectively evokes atmosphere throughout, especially with the weather, from the first summer, where: "Each day was like the next, the same heat and goldish tint", to the entirely different second, where: "No day is like the next", with extremes of heat and cold, mirroring also the by then more unsettled state of the household and the girls and their interactions.
       The girls move in this quite busy world, among a considerable variety of people, but the focus remains interior, almost floating in that sort of timeless late-adolescent world -- with Maria, when she settles down, floating in the next such bubble, of a life dominated by her babies.
       It makes for an appealing and quite rich novel of young women's lives -- with interesting secondary characters and stories, too --, with some creative twists and touches by Liberaki in how she presents and unfolds her tale. There's a bit of narrative instability -- creative Katerina isn't entirely given the reins -- but even when Liberaki shifts to other story-forms (as with the diary excerpts) and suggests other perspectives the writing is strong and often arresting.
       A nice piece of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 July 2019

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Three Summers: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Greek author Margarita Liberaki (Μαργαρίτα Λυμπεράκη) lived 1919 to 2001.

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© 2019-2020 the complete review

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