The Carpet Weaver of Usak by Kathryn Gauci

Great story well told

There are two villages in Anatolia. Pinarbaşi is Turkish, Stravrodromi is Greek. The only thing that divides them is a road. Their people live together in complete harmony. In reading about the relationship between the two villages, I got a sense that the march of time had left them behind. Mention of a caravanserai, camel trains, goat-herders, and the excitement produced in the women by a chiming clock, all suggest a simple people living simple lives according to a simple ethic: Help your neighbours; they are your family. They could as easily (apart from the clock) belong to biblical times.

The lifeblood of the two villages is the carpet weaving industry. Aspasia, a gentle, curious woman weaves exquisite carpets. Her husband Christophoros, a proud, hardworking and generous man works in Uşak for a carpet company. They are an adoring couple, whose language is spiced with tender endearments. They long for a child.

Then a bullet fired in faraway Sarajevo changes everything. In the villages, no one knows where Sarajevo is or who Archduke Franz-Ferdinand is or why war has been declared. The young men are summoned to fight, the Ottomans side with Germany and Austria, the Greeks with Russia and the allies. They march away and many are never heard from again. The war also impacts the carpet industry as the women are called upon to turn their skills to making blankets. Production is reduced but even so, carpets stockpile. After the war, further hardship for the two villages begins, testing friendships in the struggle for survival.

There is great depth to this book. The author invites us to look at our lives with all our sophisticated toys and gadgets and ask if we are any happier than women who thrilled at the chiming of a clock. The horrors of war, the ruin and devastation it brings to ordinary people, is juxtaposed by the birth of a child and the hope it brings; and also with a delightful description of Anatolia in spring

In keeping with the characters, the writing is simple and concise, with no dramatic flourishes or superfluity. I expected to enjoy this book and I did. It’s a story of love, friendship, courage, loss and war, superbly told, set during an epic and tragic event I suspect few know about. I didn’t. I have no faults to pick except that there were a few grammatical errors or typos.

A Perfect Stone by S.C. Karakaltsas

This is a dual timeline novel set in Greece in the mid-20th century and Australia in the 21st century. Nine-year-old Dimitri is exposed to the senseless brutalities of war when his father is taken away to prison for no apparent fault. Later he becomes one of the thousands of children forcibly removed from their homes to save them from becoming victims of the Greek civil war. Accompanied by a few brave women, Dimitri and his friends make a gruelling trek through the mountains without adequate food, clothing or shelter and exposed to bombs dropped from “blackbirds” as well as the risk of a chance encounter with soldiers who might or might not be sympathetic. The heroism and compassion of the children are awe-inspiring but never defies belief.

The story of the trek and Dimitri’s assimilation into a new life in a new country is told in the memoirs of Jim, an octogenarian of failing memory. Who nevertheless retains a sense of humour. After a stroke puts him in hospital, his over-protective daughter, Helen, helps him to confront a past he has hidden and overcome the guilt he has carried for decades.

This is a fictional story but based on actual events, and the author wastes not a word in evoking sympathy for those most vulnerable members of society, without ever becoming maudlin.

I didn’t know there was a Greek civil war. And although I vaguely understood that children were sometimes evacuated for their own safety, I never gave a thought to how those children felt about being separated from their parents and how they may have suffered in other ways. I now know that P.T.S.S. is not confined to soldiers.

This book is the best kind of historical novel: engaging, enlightening and thought-provoking. Kudos to the author for a well-told tale.

This review was originally written for Discovering Diamonds.

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