Mary Anne Yarde
“It is strange how we human beings are attracted to the things which are no good for us…”It wasn’t meant to be like this. My life was planned. I would take over my father’s business and marry Rosa. But then the army of the Hellenes were defeated, and the governor of Smyrna fled, leaving us at the mercy of the Turks, and all of my dreams, all of my plans, quickly evaporated into nothing.
I thought I had died that day, along with my parents. I thought I was already dead when I reached Piraeus, but little did I know what the future had in store for me. Before I died, I had to fall in love…
From the depths of despairing poverty to the ultimate sacrifice, Seraphina’s Song by Kathryn Gauci is the powerfully emotional account of a refugee who dared to love where he should not.
With a tragic sense of foreshadowing, this novel opens on a rubbish heap — a place where the desperately poor rummage in the hope of finding coins, or something useful to salvage. It is also where the dead, who had met with an unfortunate end, are left to the mercy of the dogs and the flies and the filth. It is where things are thrown away, including a life that had promised so very much. This destitute abode is a fitting place to start a novel about a man who saw the sun but wanted more — Dionysos Mavroulis wanted the stars as well.
With an enthralling sense of time and place, Gauci has presented her readers with an utterly irresistible novel. This is the kind of book that grabs the reader from the opening sentence and does not let go until that final full stop. It is a story that is hauntingly beautiful. This compelling, page-turning narrative is, at times, profoundly unsettling as the blade draws ever nearer to the brave protagonist’s throat. Although Gauci prepares her readers for the death of the protagonist from the opening page, when it happens — how it happens — still comes as a tremendous shock, so be prepared and have a box of tissues close at hand.
The hero of this desperate tragedy is Dionysos Mavroulis. Gauci depicts an unlikely hero in Dionysos, for he is nothing. He is no one. A coward, some might say, who disguised himself as an old woman so he could board the boat with the other refugees. Racked with grief and guilt, Dionysos is a character seemingly without hope, but his story is one of redemption, discovery, friendship, happiness, and love. I absolutely adored Dionysos. When his life spirals out of control, it is music that saves his soul. And when he wants to say things that cannot be said, he lets his music talk for him. Everything he has experienced, everything he has ever felt, he expresses when he picks up a dead man’s bouzouki. The joy his music brings to other people is a stark contrast to the torment of his soul. Dionysos was a character that I grew to adore. His honesty, his passion, his hunger for something more than he had, made him incredibly endearing and it reminds the reader that buried deep inside of us all is something that cannot be denied, no matter what the consequences.
The heroine of this tale is Seraphina. Seraphina is like an avalanche — beautiful to look at, but once she has you in her sights, she is impossible to outrun. With a voice that can out carol the nightingale and a body that tempts a man to sin, Seraphina draws men towards her like bees to a honeypot. However, interestingly, it is not her body, nor her voice, that first captures Dionysos’ attention, but her eyes — eyes that remind him of his past love. Dionysos approached this forbidden relationship with Seraphina with the strength of a dying man’s last confession. The unsurmountable odds stacked against the lovers is no deterrent, they must be together, or Dionysos will surely die. Seraphina’s plight is as desperate as Dionysos’, and when she is with him, Seraphina dares to dream of a different future. Seraphina’s backstory is one of choice. She had a choice between abject poverty and free will. She chose to sacrifice her free will. But in doing so, she loses something of herself, something which she only finds again in Dionysos’ arms. I thought Seraphina’s portrayal was sublime. I enjoyed reading about her and, although she knows how this could end for Dionysos, she dares to believe in his promises.
For a story about suffering, Gauci’s careful use of symbols to depict death should come as no surprise. The fact that Dionysos has to wear a dead man’s clothes, and a dead man’s shoes, is unsurprising, considering his situation, but he also takes up a dead man’s journey and follows in his footsteps to the same catastrophic fate. I thought Gauci’s very carefully crafted word building and her use of both symbols and motifs as well, for that matter, gave this book a strong foundation in which to build this hauntingly beautiful story upon.
The historical detail in this book is poetically alluring, which seems a strange thing to say when most of the story happens in the poverty-stricken slums of Piraeus, but it is true. Gauci has depicted not only the suffering but also the richness of life in the face of death and despair. Gauci has to be commended for her depiction of this era in all its suffering and deprivation. I thought the historical backdrop to this story was superbly executed. Bravo Ms Gauci. Bravo, indeed.
Seraphina’s Song by Kathryn Gauci is the kind of book that wraps around your soul and leaves an impression. It is a story that is as impressive as it is brilliant. If you love quality Historical Fiction, then this book should definitely be on your ‘to-read’ list!
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
January 17, 2019
Goodreads and Amazon
1 January 2018
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have been very impressed by Kathryn Gauci’s earlier books but this book confirmed this author as one of serious literary merit. Written in the first person it is set at a time when refugees from Asia Minor, especially those from the horrors of the fire and massacre of Smyrna in 1922, discovered life in the twilight areas of Piraeus was not the haven of peace and comfort for which they had hoped. It is by no means certain that the bold opening paragraph, which apparently gives the horrifying conclusion of the novella, is the one the reader will want to accept. Hope after all is an abiding human quality. Throughout this gripping tale of fear, courage, infatuation, love, evil and historical fact the reader will be drawn to the protagonist willing him to crush the ruthless compatriot who rules over the patch. This is also a story of music, of the bouzouki and of the more primitive instruments which the refugees turned to, some in desperation crafting their music in hashish dens, until our hero Dionysos meets Aleko who in turn introduces him to the owner of Papazoglou’s swish taverna. Here it is the eyes of Seraphina which will change the course of life for Dionysos. This book may get under your skin, so incredibly well woven is this tale you will feel for the pain of the author who had to so meticulously research this story. Bravo!
5***** A gripping and poignant tale
24 December 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Dionysos, a young man who escapes from Smyrna (İzmir), after the Turks end the Greek occupation, arrives in Greece with the rest of Asia Minor refugees. The refugees are outcasts, living in a separate quarter on the fringes of Piraeus. Many perish under the poverty, famine and unsanitary conditions of the quarter while Dionysos finds consolation in hashish and spends a couple years in a daze. Aleko, a famous bouzouki player becomes his saviour and pulls him out of the gutter, giving him a purpose in his life. This is when he meets the beautiful Seraphina, the singer with the voice of a nightingale, his nemesis. Aleko has a secret, which unfolds as he teaches Dioynsus how to play the bouzouki and treats him like his own son. Despite the warnings and threats from the taverna owner, Papazoglou, a mobster who owns Seraphina, like king Oedipus, Dionysos is blinded by love and passion and does not heed the danger. In his early thirties, as he becomes a famous bouzouki player and composer, fame and fortune promise to make him respectable again. Yet, fate continues to weave its threats around the young couple.
Good story-telling combined with descriptions that set the atmosphere of the time, from the hellish conditions of the refugee quarter to the lavishness of the taverna patrons, and the mobsters that thrive in drug-dealing, crime, and corruption. The refugee culture that influences the local culture with its music, cuisine, language and traditions make this a gripping, yet poignant tale.
5***** The Passion That Ignited Greek History!
Dionysos Mavroulis is a man hitting rock bottom. Escaping Smyrna after the Turkish occupation, Dionysos consoles himself in the hashish parlors of Piraeus, spending every small bit of money so he can dream his life away. However, his life undergoes a more than dramatic way when he sees a picture of Seraphina, a singer who accompanies Aleko, a famous bouzouki player. It’s 1923 and this form of Greek music is just beginning to become popular with its soulful sound and tone reflective of the Greek soul that has loved and suffered so deeply.
Seraphina is described as a gorgeous woman and Dionysos loses his mind, heart and soul after hearing her sing. Truly she has the voice of a nightingale and Dionysos is so lost in that glorious being that he dances with her in a way that touches everyone watching and listening to this unexpected but glorious performance.
A love story begins but journeys where no one expects it to end. For Seraphina is controlled by the tavern owner who is a Mafia-style figure. Aleko knows the power and violence of Papazoglou, warning Dionysos to back off his passion for Seraphina.
Love is blind, however, and events quickly transpire leading to a devastating but passionate ending. The beauty of this novel lies in the exquisite descriptions of the music produced with a bouzouki, the enchantment that binds Seraphina and Dionysos, the dances that give expression to life and love, and the almost indescribable depth of passion that these Greeks have for their homeland and unique culture. This is a novel you will not soon forget, a story emerging out of a painful period of Greek history, and a story of revival and love that no enemy could stifle. Highly recommended!
Pamela Rogers 5*****
Seraphina’s song is an excellent quick read which will linger in my heart and mind. Like Gauci’s first fabulous novel “The Embroiderer” the background of the protagonists starts during the diabolical Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations of 1923 and continues. Fascinating in its exploration of the soulful music that blossomed during this extreme time, and the people who created it. Highly recommended!
Barbara Denvil 5*****
This delightfully romantic novella brings us a whole lot more, with considerable depth and insight into the historic devastation of Greece in the early 1920s, when poverty and discrimination brought unbearable hardship in most areas.
Without swamping us with any unwanted history lesson, we are introduced to these fascinating characters and their shared background, seeing how they coped – and sometimes how they did not cope.
The fascinating insights into the hearts and minds of the Greek refugees escaping from Asia Minor at this time, are both heart-rending and intriguing, and bring the whole book to life.
Especially vivid are the descriptions of the music and how much this mattered to the people, as a llink to their pasts and their memories.
The romance is the essence of this story, and that is beautifully presented.
Not only very well written and full of atmosphere, this novella stays with you after the last page.