The Jasmine Isle, by Ioanna Karystiani. Published 1997 by Europa Editions.
The Jasmine Isle
is an epic tale of lost love and a beautiful story of the love between
sisters, set in Greece at the beginning of the 20th century. Straddling
the old world and the new, Ioanna Karystiani tells the story of the
Saltaferos family. Minna is a matriarch, a woman who runs the lives of
her daughters Orsa and Mosca. Orsa, the elder of the two, is beautiful
and in love with Spyros Maltambes, but Minna makes her marry another
man. Orsa's husband is a good man who cares for his lovely wife, but
Orsa cannot help but pine for Spyros, who marries the person Orsa loves
most in the world save for himself.
style is dream-like and impressionistic. Sometimes I had to reread
passages to follow her loose-woven paragraphs and storytelling but I
fell under her spell nonetheless. She creates vivid characters and
palpable tension between them as time goes on and the family grows and
changes. Set on a seafaring island, death is a constant presence in the
lives of the Saltaferos family and indeed of every family in their
orbit. The men are all sailors, traveling the world and risking their
lives while the women wait and worry. They bring back treasures from
around the globe but the real treasure- their love- seems to elude even
the most well-meaning among them. Or at least that's how it seems.
The Jasmine Isle is an elusive novel, the characters slipping
away from each other and from us, never quite in our grasp. I don't mean
this in a bad way, just that Karystiani transmits the melancholy and
isolation they feel as wars and love and passion and disappointment wash
over each one in his or her turn. Poor Orsa, and poor Mosca too, and
even poor Minna, as frustrated and bitter as the rest. The men don't
fare much better. So it's a beautiful novel but a sad one, but one I'd
recommend to literary fiction readers, about staying behind in more ways
Karystiani has a new book out, Back to Delphi, which I hope to read soon.
This is my sixth book for the 2013 Europa Challenge.