Lead Review

  • Book: Mermaid Singing
  • Location: Kalymnos
  • Author: Charmian Clift

Review Author: Tina Hartas

Location

Content

Kalymnos lived on the sponge diving industry but it was a dying art when Chairman and her husband arrived, two children in tow, landing in a country that was so unfamiliar, with little money in the bank, but hey, they were up for a change and some adventure. They had left bleak and grey London behind and the lure of Greece was strong. Clift marvelled at the island, it felt imposing with the mountains towering behind and the waterfront quite the cosmopolitan harbour, especially by sleepy Greek island standards. The evidence of the sponge diving history was everywhere and in fact in their rented and rather run down ‘yellow house’, there was a sponge clipping room, where the men cut and sorted the sponges.

They have arrived on an island that is was entrenched in traditional values, where the men had the final say and traditional dress was ubiquitous (mainly for women). Marriages were often arranged, men left to dive, the women left behind, sometimes going years without seeing their husbands.

There are many snippets of island life and I certainly learned a lot from her insightful thoughts and observations –  that pine resin was added to wine, to preserve it as it was shipped further afield, for example and, the resultant astringency of resination counteracts the oily nature of Greek food. If you are a fan of retzina, then each glass is a toast (in other words it is not a drink for glugging!) and I raise a glass to the stalwart and resourceful author.

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