Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon

When life has handed a person terrible tragedy to get through, sometimes it is easiest to settle for safety rather than risk your heart again. But can the people who know and love you best let you settle or should they push you to open yourself wide again to all the experience, emotion, joy, and yes, even sorrow that is possible? Yvette Manessis Corporon's novel, When the Cypress Whispers, explores this idea through its main character, a woman on the brink of a major life change.

Daphne is the daughter of Greek immigrants who worked hard chasing the American Dream. Daphne herself has been the one to grasp the golden ring of success as a chef and restaurant owner in New York City. But her success hasn't been without tragedy and sacrifice. Her husband was killed in an accident, leaving Daphne with their infant daughter, Evie, who she loves dearly but to whom she has not been able to devote much time, completely invested in her restaurant as she is and must be for their survival. But she's made a success and her life seems to be taking a wonderful upturn. She's engaged to Stephen, a wealthy banker, who will ensure her financial stability and comfort. But even as her life is moving forward, Daphne is pulled to her past and to the wonderful, carefree summers of her girlhood spent on the Greek island of Erikousa with her Yia-yia. And so she is determined to go back to the island, to introduce her daughter to her beloved grandmother, and to marry Stephen in the place that is so dear to her heart.

Going back to Erikousa opens Daphne's eyes to her own connection to the place and people there. She is wrapped in a love and acceptance that makes her bloom again. And Evie, a shy and retiring child, comes out of her shell in the warm embrace of the effusive and exuberant bosom of her extended family. As Daphne and Yia-yia enjoy each other's company once again, Daphne has the chance to listen to her grandmother's stories and her telling of Greek myths. But there is a story that Yia-yia has never shared with Daphne, a story that she only hears from Yianni, a man she's never met before who seems to have a close and loving relationship with her grandmother. Although Yianni initially antagonizes and judges Daphne each time they meet, it is from him that she finally hears the story of her grandmother's amazing act of courage in sheltering a Jewish woman and her daughters during the German occupation of Greece.

And it is in this revelation of her grandmother's prescience about the German soldiers and their movements to and from Erikousa that Daphne finally starts to believe in Yia-yia's assertion that the cypress trees whisper to her in their voices of her ancestors, an enduring private oracle. Daphne cannot hear the voices herself, she doesn't know how to listen for them, and she does not know what her future holds but her yia-yia, knowing what must happen, counsels her, wanting Daphne to choose to live her life with a heart wide open instead of choosing the safe and easy course because she is worried that the grief she has already suffered through the loss of her husband and the murder of her parents will swamp her again.

The family relationships in this novel are touching and lovely. That the whole island of Erikousa wants the best for Daphne and her little Evie highlights the close and deep ties forged in communities that value connection above all else. The insertion of the myths and the supernatural idea of the cypress whispers adds to the exoticism of the tiny Greek island setting. Corporon has drawn some of the secondary characters beautifully. Daphne's cousin Popi is a riot and Thea Nitsa, the portly, cigarette-smoking innkeeper is a hoot as well as a reality check for Daphne. Her fiancé Stephen is not as well fleshed out as these overwhelming women, nor is Yianni and his relationship with Daphne is too fast and unbelievable.

There was a lot of description in the novel, making it clear that Corporon is used to writing for a visual medium. But sometimes that description is too much or slightly overwrought, and it can be very repetitive. It wasn't necessary or realistic for Daphne to continually wonder at her yia-yia's intelligence given that she was uneducated; in fact, it made Daphne seem rather a snob about one of the people she loved most in the world, something that was certainly unintended. But  Daphne's attraction to tradition and the myths was appealing and her newly kindled desire to share her heritage with Evie was touching. The ending felt rushed and unsatisfactory though as there was really no farewell or until we meet again with the island that offered her so much at this crossroads in her life and which was clearly so important to who she was becoming.  Despite a few missteps like this, this novel of tradition and modernity, family and love turned out to be a nice read for a sun drenched day. And if a breeze is blowing gently through the leaves of a tree nearby as you read, even better.

For more information about Yvette Manessis Corporon and the book, check out her website, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. Like Daphne I feel a strong pull towards tradition and myth - I think I'd enjoy getting to know her!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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