Tuesday, September 13, 2016

St. Martin's Press Announces The Spice Box Letters Availabile Today!

The Spice Box Letters - long listed for the Jerwood Prize 2015
I found it interesting that there is a prize for "uncovering" books...The Spice Box Letters received that award in 2015 and, today, in America, St. Martin's Press is releasing the Book! Cool! Right?
I am always intrigued when I am approached by this publisher. I never know what the book will be about, and rarely even read the synopsis sent...I like being surprised because I know that each book they send me will be wonderful...And this one certainly was!

Mariam, Eastern Turkey, 1915...Baba drove the carriage at speed, guiding the dapple-grey Arabian through a labyrinth of cobbled streets The carriage juddered as it struck jagged stones, barbed vibrations stealing up through my backbone. On the street, merchants advertised their wares in a throaty hum or sucked on water pipes in the entrances of open-fronted stores brimming with spices, homespun silks, leather goods, copper pans and aphrodisiacs. There was no hint of danger on the street, no warning of the calamity to come. The silvery crow of a distant cock rang out over red-tiled rooftops, over domes and minarets and the snow-capped summit that dwarfed the city. Scarfed women in cotton shawls chatted beneath stone lintels. A stray dog suckled her young. The morning air was scented with the ancient odour of incense, burnt sugar and the fruity smoke of shishas. A row of silver charms, inlaid with blue enamel, hung from a doorway; amulets just like the one I always carried in my pocket to protect me from the evil eye.
It felt good to be out of the house, immersed in the hubbub of the market. Our world was a dangerous place, my father warned, and he was not alone in voicing his fears. Dire predictions resounded in every Armenian backyard and coffee house.
The carriage overtook mules transporting kindling and baskets loaded with melons, pumpkins and burgundy figs. Flies hovered at the window of the carriage, straying from the skinny carcass hanging from the butcher's awning. A bell tinkled in the near distance and Baba stopped to let the pastry man cross, his wooden cart laden with diamonds of paklava in gleaming pastry coats.
I shouted over the murmur of the market. "Baba, stop, I want a pastry." The salivating scene of syrup and rose water wafted through the carriage.
Baba clicked his tongue, setting the dapple-grey in motion. The pastry seller's rhythmic call of pa-kla-vaaaa faded while a man's angry rhetoric echoes through the street. A crowd had gathered up ahead. People shifted to let the buggy pass into the heart of a drama. The Armenian baker, Kalfayan, stood outside his shop, before the city's Turkish commandant and several police officers, shouting at the top of his voice, his jowly face quivering with rage.
"I've done nothing wrong...the allegations are false...I did not poison the bread for the barracks."
The trays in the window of his shop had been upturned and an array of dimpled loaves littered the street.
Kalfayan stepped forward, his hands clenched. The commandant raised his baton and struck him on the temple. Kalfayan's eyes bulged in surprise. A second vicious blow knocked him off his feet and he fell, like an axed tree. I heard his skull crack on the ground, like the crunch of dry eucalyptus pods underfood. Screams permeated the carriage. The baker lay completely still while the street closed in about him, people flapping like chickens rushing at their feed. I saw my father appear in this scene. My doctor-father down on his knees, taking the baker's pulse, turning his head, his fingers in the baker's mouth dislodging this tongue. Seconds later, Kalfayan spluttered back to life and the police pulled him to his feet. The next thing I knew, the buggy was pulling away, the horse's powerful feet pounding the cobbles.

Mariam, the child in Turkey, in 1915, was to become the grandmother of Katerina, living in England in 1985 As sometimes happens, Katerina had become closer to her grandmother than her mother. But now, both are missing Marian as they mourn her death, remembering all that people had shared with them: Your mother was a wonderful woman and will be deeply missed...Mariam was a gem, generous to a fault. A wonderful cook who performed culinary alchemy with a shoulder of lamb and smoked paprika. Mariam had been a nurse for 50 years and had many friends who had come to pay tribute to a lost friend, a woman who had helped so many...

Now a month later, Katerina and her Mum was talking together about their loss. And her mother indicated she had something to show her...

Will each of us wait until we are gone for those who remain behind to discover our secrets? Yes, I think so, when you have secrets that are too hard to even think about and, especially not to share... It was Katherine who worried about the dead still having rights to their privacy...Still, she joined with her mother... So, within a large cupboard box, Mariam's daughter had opened the past life of her mother--a life that Mariam had never shared with anybody... There were pictures, of course, but when they discovered a diary that was written in Armenian, they could only stare, wondering, what it held...

"What happened?"
"I miss her, Katerina. I miss her so much.
Thought I'd comfort myself by making
her lamb stew. Wanted to have it ready
by the time you came over. I bought all
the ingredients, chopped everything up
and then realised I didn't know what to
do. What spices she used. Cooking times,
measurements, nothing. I made it up as
I went along but it didn't taste the same
and the meat was tough so I turned up
the heat and burnt the stew...I should
have written down her recipes while she
was still alive, but I never did and now
I'll never have the chance."
Her mother had turned to Katherine and asked that she get it translated, that she didn't care what it cost. They didn't realize next what it was they found, but later learned that it was an old-fashioned Spice Box; it contained a dozen sealed envelopes with no name and address--none had ever been sent. They, too, were written in Gran's mother tongue...And one more thing, a watch which had belonged to Gran's father, Grigor... And as they sat there remembering, they also remembered that Gran always did the cooking herself and made it clear that she really liked to do it herself...Neither of them now knew the recipes for all the wonderful food she had provided for the family and others...

For three days now, we've been gorging
on junk food...from American chains
that colonise Larnacca's palm tree
promenade, short walk from the hotal.
Each day, I wake up intending to room
out a cosy corner frequented by the
locals, and invariably end up in some
marble-clad, air-conditioned, sooulless
outlet, succumbing to familiar dishes,
watching the world go by...
With all that was happening in Katherine's life, her mother suggested she take that holiday that she very much needed and soon they were in Larnaca, Cyprus... She had traveled with her friend who was much more extroverted and they soon found their way to a "seaside grunge where Greek Lotharios pick up tourists. Soon they were joined at their table with Nico who Jenny had been flirting with. You might say that Katherine did the perfect thing that night without her knowing it...She said she wanted to go, and the others decided that the other man, Ara, should take her...

For, you see, Ara was Armenian and Katherine immediately decided it was fate and she boldly asked him if he would help her translate her grandmother's diary.

At that point, the author begins the move back and forth as Ara is able to meet with Katherine and read the diary to her. I've decided not to share any of those readings because, after all, there was a reason that her grandmother didn't want to share her secrets and so you'll have to be an actual reader to learn her story. I think, given the year, you will make an accurate assumption that her life was filled with hard times and loss, as the massacre occurred during WWI,,,

In the meantime, Ara had invited Katherine to his home to meet his family. And readers are privileged to meet and enjoy the open hospitality there while we can enjoy the love developing between Katherine, coming from one side of the world, and Ara who had retained most of his cultural background on the other side of that world. It was in the Troodos Mountains that they started to talk, as Ara show her where he would be building his home...

"So you like it up here," he says, pensively, his eyes resting on mine. "Could you live somewhere like this, Katherina?" The sound of my name lingers and sensing his thoughts I instinctively grasp at a cool-headed response. I'd like a place to escape to but I wouldn't want to live too far away from my friends and family." He is stumped for a second but then his reply is unequivocal. "I couldn't live in England. Three years in the North were  enough for me. I can't stand the weather..." Ara's looking for a soul mate, an earthy girl who can share his passion for the mountains, and I have ruled myself our of the running...


There is a surprise addition and life story of a character as time goes by and Katherine learns more about Gran's family members. And then there is still another as she discovers to whom the letters were written...

I loved entering into the lives of Armenians during this wonderful family drama, like no other... Sometimes it is said that without sorrow, there cannot be joy... I myself would be quite content that there is sorrow, natural in death...but there is no joy following war and senseless murder. Still we survive, thankfully for future generations to remind us what had 
occurred in the past lives of our families... 
May ourArmenian neighbors find comfort in the sharing of this provocative, memorable story of those in 1915, as well as those living later...

Highly recommended!


Eve Makis is the author of three books published by Transworld. Her debut novel, Eat, Drink and Be Married, was published in five languages and was awarded the Young Booksellers International Book of the Year Award. Her third book, Land of the Golden Apple, has been optioned by APM Filmworks and is now in pre-production. Eve was born in Nottingham to Greek Cypriot parents who moved to England in the 1960s. She is married with two children and lives in the UK and Cyprus. At present, she is developing the screen adaptation of her novel.The Spice Box Letters released today in America.

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