Book Review: The House by the River by LENA MANTA

The first novel by acclaimed Greek writer Lena Manta to appear in English translation, The House by the River is an intimate, emotionally powerful saga following five young women as they realize that no matter the men they choose, the careers they pursue, or the children they raise, the only constant is home.

Theodora knows she can’t keep her five beautiful daughters at home forever—they’re too curious, too free spirited, too like their late father. And so, before each girl leaves the small house on the riverside at the foot of Mount Olympus, Theodora makes sure they know they are always welcome to return.

A devoted and resilient mother, Theodora has lived through World War II, through the Nazi occupation of Greece, and through her husband’s death, and now she endures the twenty-year-long silence of her daughters’ absence. Her children have their own lives—they’ve married, traveled the world, and courted romance, fame, and even tragedy. But as they become modern, independent women in pursuit of their dreams, Theodora knows they need her—and each other—more than ever. Have they grown so far apart that they’ve forgotten their childhood house in its tiny village, or will their broken hearts finally lead them home?

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I’ve picked this book for reading challenge as a book originally written in another language, based on friends recommendation, and I truly enjoyed it.

Beautifully written story of mother and daughters; mother that stayed behind while daughters leave home and set to follow their dreams of better future, love and new families with their husbands.

Five daughters decide to head out to the big world, all with different plan, all full of hope but also worries. They are leaving the only constant they had so far in their life, their house by the river, their family home in small village that became smaller and smaller for them over years and suffocated them.

Each chapter covers story of one of the daughters, their lives, struggles, happiness, loss, grief,… Everything anyone can encounter in life, things that make us and break us. They are all different, their personalities, their fights in life but one thing they have in common. Place where they all can return in time of need. Place where they once lived carelessly and freely as young girls, place filled with many happy memories, their home, their house by the river.

Very powerful story of family, of mother’s love and forgiveness, of how we don’t know what future may hold for us but we are not afraid to try even if we might fail.

I really enjoyed the book, it was long and chapters could have been split into smaller chunks as it would probably help me to read it faster but the story was great and very strong. Once I got over the feeling that I’m reading translated book, I got really into it and couldn’t stop reading. However at times it felt slightly less emotional that it should have and I believe it was because it was translated and I haven’t read it in its original language. Dialogues felt distant and not very realistic to me, they just didn’t sound like real people would be saying them. So that is be probably the only reason why I wouldn’t give it 5 stars and settled for 4.

However I hope that Lena Manta will have some of her other books translated in English as she is pretty big in Greece and I would love to read some more books written by her.

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