BOOK REVIEW: Among the Lemon Trees by Nadia Marks
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo
Love is a wonderful thing. We all want to experience it. Many musicians, artists and writers have used it as inspiration, but it was perhaps Darren Hanlon who put it best when he sang, “Love is just a lazy generalisation that we use for a hundred different feelings and as many situations.” Journalist and author, Nadia Marks knows a lot about this kind of love, as she proves in her debut novel for adults, Among the Lemon Trees. She says that the Greeks have no fewer than four different types of love:
Agápe is the big love, storgé the tender other love, philia friendship, and éros sexual love.
This novel is a pleasant read that follows a tried and tested formula in contemporary literature. We have a middle-aged woman at a major turning point in her life. She takes time out from the hustle and bustle of the everyday in order to learn about herself and, in doing so, she discovers some long-buried secrets about her family.
Anna, the protagonist in this tale of love, loss and betrayal, lives in England and is of Greek and Italian descent. She’s the mother of two teenage kids and she believes she has built a happy marriage with her husband Max. Anna believes that she and Max share in domestic bliss and that they will eventually grow old together.
But one day Max confesses that he has been having an affair. This is one of many occasions where Anna is forced to re-evaluate her previously-held beliefs. In order to have a proper think about things she agrees to spend the summer with her elderly, widowed father in Greece on the small, Aegean island of his birth.
This book is peppered with Greek terms and sayings. There is the “Zeimbekiko” or “Love lament,” which is a serious dance that every Greek man has had to participate in at some point. The use of the Greek language lends the proceedings an authentic feel, even if the story itself does not feel particularly fresh or original.
Over the course of the summer Anna has an island fling and comes to learn more about her Greek heritage. The story jumps between chapters set in Greece and Italy from the late 20th century up to the Second World War, as well as following Anna and her extended family in the present. Along the way, Anna has a number of significant revelations, the most important one being:
It’s often the case, she thought, that we tend to project what we want to see in people or what we perceive as being the truth about who they are. For her, all through her life her father was the adoring dad who married the woman of his dreams and took care of everyone; her mother was the lucky girl who was swept off her feet by the gallant soldier she fell in love with to live happily ever after… How wrong could she have been!
Among the Lemon Trees is a bittersweet novel about love, home and regret. It’s a nice and a fun enough story to read, but it is a tad clichéd and formulaic in parts, particularly as it tackles “family secrets” and the like. Among the Lemon Trees is a fun little slice of escapism and romance but at the end of the day it doesn’t offer anything particularly memorable or fresh.
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