The Book of Summers
Emylia HallBeth Lowe has been sent a parcel. Inside is a letter informing her that her long-estranged mother has died, and a scrapbook Beth has never seen before. Entitled The Book of Summers, it's stuffed with photographs and mementos complied by her mother to record the seven glorious childhood summers Beth spent in rural Hungary. It was a time when she trod the tightrope between separated parents and two very different countries; her bewitching but imperfect Hungarian mother and her gentle, reticent English father; the dazzling house of a Hungarian artist and an empty-feeling cottage in deepest Devon. And it was a time that came to the most brutal of ends the year Beth turned sixteen. Since then, Beth hasn't allowed herself to think about those years of her childhood. But the arrival of The Book of Summers brings the past tumbling back into the present; as vivid, painful and vital as ever.
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Richard: A book with moments as gentle and warm and languorous as its title, but with powerful running tensions, too.
The summers in question are glorious Hungarian ones; brief but intense interludes in the childhood of a little girl, Beth Lowe.
Beth’s mother, Marika, is Hungarian; her father, David, is English. Marika longs to return to her homeland. One summer, friends in a remote rural part of Hungary invite the family to stay. Marika is beside herself with excitement.
The holiday ends in heartbreak for Beth and her father. Marika refuses point blank to return with them to Devon. ‘I’m sorry’ she tells her nine-year old child. ‘Daddy and I don’t fit any more... but here, I fit...’
A devastated David and Beth make their lonely way back to England and try to carry on with their lives. Marika stays in touch with her daughter by phone and insists she be allowed to join her in Hungary every summer.
It is the start of the 1990s but the backwater where Marika has settled is preserved in a much earlier time. Emylia Hall’s descriptions of rural, backwater Hungary speaks of a rustic simplicity that has long vanished from our own countryside. And the Hungarian summers are as important as the scenery to the story’s vivid backdrop: all shimmering heat, dust and brilliant white light by day, warm and glowing with fireflies and stars by night.
This is a story about growing up, and coming to terms with realities over which one has no control. It is a delicate, atmospheric, regretful tale but full of redemption too. I absolutely loved it.
Judy: This is a book within a book. A now grown-up Beth receives a package. Inside is a letter informing her that her mother has died, and enclosed with it is a home-made scrapbook Beth never knew existed.
Her mother entitled it ‘The Book of Summers’ and to Beth’s astonishment, it is full of photographs, mementos and notes Marika compiled every summer her daughter came to Hungary. It starts when Beth was ten and first re-united with her mother, and finishes seven years later when she was sixteen. After that the pages are blank. No more memories. No more summers.
What happened to so totally estrange Beth from Marika? Why does Beth have issues with her own father, who brought her up alone and always did his best for her? Why does Hungary, which over seven summers Beth came to love, even planning to move there permanently, now represent so much heartache and pain?
Slowly, almost fearfully, she begins to revisit her past – all of their pasts - by turning the book’s pages. She remembers Tamas, the boy she fell in love with. Zoltan, her mother’s artist lover. Villa Serena, the couple’s beautiful, remote house standing at the foot of wooded mountains with sprawling fields before it and a magical forest pool nearby for swimming on the scorching summer days.
A lovely story of a mother’s love and shattered dreams. And the power of simple photographs and forgotten trinkets to mend broken hearts.
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