The Lovers
Vendela Vida
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Buy *The Lovers* by Vendela Vida online

The Lovers
Vendela Vida
240 pages
June 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Evoking memories of my own trips to Southern Turkey, Vendela’s brittle, beautifully written brittle novel is a deep exploration into the heart of a middle-aged woman burdened by her past, seeking to regain her life after the sudden death of her husband. It’s been approximately twenty-eight years since Yvonne and Peter honeymooned in the picaresque village of Datça on the Southern Turkish coast. Since Peter’s death a few years ago, Yvonne has been having a hard time, the married part of her life almost like “a doll house” of mixed-up emotions.

Desperate to recapture something of what she had with Peter, Yvonne decides to return to the town, extravagantly renting a large, modern house on the hill above the ocean. She plans to stay in Datca for a couple of weeks before joining her children, Matthew and Aurelia, on a chartered boat around the Islands of the Aegean. Upon her arrival in Turkey, for the first time in months Yvonne begins to enjoy the role of the observer rather than the observed, finding a new brand of comfort as she spies the beachside cafés, the rows of squat palm trees and the turquoise minarets.

But with the images of Peter - their courtship and their marriage, the days following his death, the endless cards and letters of fake sympathy, the memories of Aurelia and her “difficult period” - turning over in Yvonne's mind, it becomes pretty clear that of late she has been waging an emotional tug-of-war. Though she aches to shed this grief and feel the way she felt during her honeymoon, Yvonne finds herself staying in a very different Datça from the one that she left.

Half the restaurants are shut down, the beaches are full of small plastic bags, the water is dirty and full of dark, dead leaves. Even her multi-floored rented house seems a bit forbidden - rather sterile and not that romantic. As she wanders the house like a phantom, sleeping restlessly, not even a sexually explicit book, a sex swing, and a lurid, provocative photo of the girlfriend of Ali Celik, the owner of the house, spurs any sort of reaction in her.

Later, beautiful Ozlem, Mr. Celik's glamorous wife and the “Turkish face of Dove” who comes to visit Yvonne, cannot seem to lift her out of her funk. These strained conversations with Ozlem jumpstart Yvonne’s memories of her own troubled daughter. Relief comes with an invitation to accompany an American couple to Cleopatra’s Island, and her unlikely friendship with a shell-diving ten-year-old boy offers Yvonne some solace from the blind emotions she has unwillingly accepted over the years since Peter’s death.

Vida gorgeously layers Yvonne’s angst against a sun that presses relentlessly into her psyche, where only the cool, clear waters of the Aegean are enough to wash away the heat of the day and her own personal demons. Finding herself stranded, hungry and thirsty, this mother and teacher - and widow - becomes like a “jittery fugitive,” scarcely anchored in a reality where her heart seems perpetually torn asunder.

The white sands of Cleopatra’s Island and the crowded streets of Konya, along with the bleak moonscapes of Cappadocia, lend dramatic accent to Yvonne's lovely journey as she tries in vain to grasp at the joy and the pain of her life so far. Vida gorgeously intuits Yvonne’s unraveling emotions as she becomes trapped by rooms and by caves, by Westerners and by Turks. There's grief, loss, and an underlying tone of devastating heartbreak as Yvonne finally confronts her personal failings as a wife and as a mother, aching to shed her cloak of mourning for the man she has lost.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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