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July 17, 2018 | Rome, Italy

The Lovers

By | 2018-03-21T18:42:01+00:00 October 28th, 2010|

By Vendela Vida

Ecco/Harper Collins, 2010. 228 pages.

Vida’s third novel is perceptive without fanfare. The American sentimentalism that manipulates personal tragedy makes scant appearance here, though the story’s plausibility suffers badly toward the end.

Widowed 54-year-old Vermont high school history teacher Yvonne journeys to a Turkish coastal town where she and husband Peter spent younger, carefree days. She will then join her twenty-something twins, Matthew and Aurelia, on an Aegean cruise. Two years after Peter’s death in a car accident she witnessed, Yvonne wants some time alone before the vicissitudes of her children again intercede (Aurelia is a recovering drug addict).

Once in Turkey, she befriends Özlem, the fickle, Western wannabe wife of her cheating landlord, who represents youthful frivolity, and a 10-year-old boy named Ahmet, who gathers seashells while not understanding a word she says. Stranger in a strange land, awkward, and no longer fortified by a determined husband, Yvonne grows fond of Ahmet. His damaged innocence revives an affection she thought she’d forgot. “You two laugh and play like lovers,” a local waiter says ominously.

Vida goes off the rails when Ahmet is forcibly removed from the narrative, an ill-advised effort to reemphasize and focus Yvonne’s fragility. Suddenly, a novel about and the subtleties of revival meditation veers toward West-meets-East cliché.

Still, Vida’s tense and nuanced portrayal of Yvonne compensates in part for travel-fixes-all nonfiction promoted by the likes of “Eat Pray Love.” Revelation is rare; the day-to-day is confusing; grief a container for sad but noble grace. Loss makes you a foreigner wherever you go.

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