Swell

Overview

The moment of reckoning has come for Captain Mitsos Avgustìs. After twelve years at sea it is time to go home to the Island on which he was born: home to his wife Flora, his two daughters, his son, a granddaughter he has never met, and Litsa, his lover from all those years ago; a modern-day Penelope awaiting the return of her Ulysses. It will take all Avgustìs's courage and strength to face the squalls and storms on land after a lifetime at sea-and all the while, he must resist the ocean's siren song bidding him ...

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Overview

The moment of reckoning has come for Captain Mitsos Avgustìs. After twelve years at sea it is time to go home to the Island on which he was born: home to his wife Flora, his two daughters, his son, a granddaughter he has never met, and Litsa, his lover from all those years ago; a modern-day Penelope awaiting the return of her Ulysses. It will take all Avgustìs's courage and strength to face the squalls and storms on land after a lifetime at sea-and all the while, he must resist the ocean's siren song bidding him return, tempting him back to the cargo vessel, the Athos III, that he so reluctantly left. It is there that his demons lurk, there that his terrible secrets are buried, there that his true home lies. Statuesque like Poseidon, gruff yet tender, a true legend of the seven seas, Avgustìs will learn that no matter how many or how varied one's experiences of life have been, there is always something new to learn.
And the price of learning certain lessons so late in life can be terribly steep. He will seek comfort in the gentle rolling of the ocean's swell and the silent currents that have healed sailors' wounds since time immemorial. A sweeping saga about love and hope set in modern-day Greece, Swell is Karistiani's most moving and gripping novel yet.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novelist and screenwriter Karystiani (The Jasmine Isle) won the 2007 National Book Award for best Greek novel with this book, centered around a secretly blind sea captain “in his damned dotage,” Mitsos Avgoustis. Karystiani celebrates Mitsos's epic 58-year devotion to the merchant shipping industry and the ship he helms, the Athos III, but also exposes Mitsos's heartbreak: a bitter, neglected wife, Lola; three estranged children and one grandchild (in the habit of asking if she still has a grandfather); and a pining lover, Litsa, left “on ice” for 35 years. When ownership of the Athos III passes to a “useless scoundrel,” Mitsos finds his loyal crew driven away, his retirement imminent, and his replacement a cheaper, more tractable seaman. In the ensuing battle of wills, Mitsos continues sailing and soliciting cargoes, while resentful Lola conspires with her 22-year-old son, “wounded and enraged but harmless” Andonis, to bring the captain back to Pireas. An exciting and colorful ride populated with a host of memorable characters, Karystiani's latest is both sweeping and efficient, except for a distracting tendency to tackle too much in one sentence. (Feb.)
Library Journal
A retelling of The Odyssey for the cell-phone age, Karystiani's second work to appear in English (after The Jasmine Isle) won the National Award for best Greek novel of 2007. Capt. Mitsos Avgoustis has been at sea for 12 years, piloting his cargo vessel from port to port without returning to Greece, where his wife, children, mistress, and employer are becoming increasingly concerned. Now in his mid-seventies and battling both the modernization of the world and the deterioration of his senses, Mitsos finds forces conspiring to bring him home. But the gods may have other ideas: "The sea won't give me back," he explains to his wife. VERDICT Like the perfect cup of Greek coffee, Karystiani's polished prose is strong and rich and meant to be savored slowly. Stylistically, the book suffers somewhat in translation, but the emotional power of the time-tested story takes hold before long. Essential for fans of Greek literature, classic or modern, and recommended for most readers of literary fiction. [For another recent take on The Odyssey, see Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey, LJ 12/09.—Ed.]—Forest Turner, Suffolk Cty. House of Correction Lib., Boston
Kirkus Reviews
Forced to retire, an old sea captain reviews his life and loves. Mitsos Avgoustis, 75, has been a captain in the mercantile marine for 58 years. He's losing his eyesight, and corporate powers are eager to replace him with someone younger and more predictable. Mitsos, however, is not about to go gently into that good night. In fact, at one point he threatens to keep his ship permanently at sea, because as long as it doesn't dock in port the captain can't be replaced. He is most at home in this "all-male village that never stayed put on the map," rarely spending any time with his wife and children in Greece. "I love my family but from a distance of ten thousand miles," he explains at one point. Unlike some of the ruffians in his crew, Mitsos is reflective and meditative, ruminating about his past and the unknowns facing him on retirement. Karystiani (The Jasmine Isle, 2006, etc.) periodically advances her narrative by including long letters to Mitsos from Litsa, his Penelope-like longtime mistress, whom he hasn't seen in years. Even more than the menacing swell of the seas-and much like Tennyson's Ulysses-Mitsos fears the domesticity of life on land. After a hundred trips around the world and millions of nautical miles traveled, he eventually finds himself on his small home island. He longs to remain useful, but eventually it's obvious even to him that his load of Burmese silver will be "the last cargo in the last departure of the last sea journey of his life." When you've done all you can do, it's time to rest, Mitsos learns, but we can't picture him being happy as a home-loving husband. A poignant, moving novel about aging.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933372983
  • Publisher: Europa
  • Publication date: 1/26/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,252,018
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ioanna Karystiani is the author of three novels, including The Jasmine Isle (Europa Editions 2006), a collection of short stories, and the screenplays for The Brides, directed by Pandelis Vulgaris and produced by Martin Scorsese, and Estrella mi vida, directed by Costa Gavras. She was awarded the Greek state prize and the Athenian Academy prize for her first novel, and the Diavaso literature prize for her second. Swell was given the National Award for the best Greek novel of 2007 when it was published. She lives in Athens.
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