The Clover House: A Novel

( 1 )

Overview

Perfect for fans of Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, this stunning debut novel brings to life World War II-era and modern-day Greece—and tells the story of a vibrant family and the tragic secret kept hidden for generations.
 
Boston, 2000: Calliope Notaris Brown receives a shocking phone call. Her beloved uncle Nestor has passed away, and now Callie must fly to Patras, Greece, to claim her inheritance. Callie’s mother, Clio—with whom ...
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The Clover House: A Novel

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Overview

Perfect for fans of Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, this stunning debut novel brings to life World War II-era and modern-day Greece—and tells the story of a vibrant family and the tragic secret kept hidden for generations.
 
Boston, 2000: Calliope Notaris Brown receives a shocking phone call. Her beloved uncle Nestor has passed away, and now Callie must fly to Patras, Greece, to claim her inheritance. Callie’s mother, Clio—with whom Callie has always had a difficult relationship—tries to convince her not to make the trip. Unsettled by her mother’s strange behavior, and uneasy about her own recent engagement, Callie decides to escape Boston for the city of her childhood summers. After arriving at the heady peak of Carnival, Callie begins to piece together what her mother has been trying to hide. Among Nestor’s belongings, she uncovers clues to a long-kept secret that will alter everything she knows about her mother’s past and about her own future.
 
Greece, 1940: Growing up in Patras in a prosperous family, Clio Notaris and her siblings feel immune to the oncoming effects of World War II, yet the Italian occupation throws their privileged lives into turmoil. Summers in the country once spent idling in the clover fields are marked by air-raid drills; the celebration of Carnival, with its elaborate masquerade parties, is observed at home with costumes made from soldiers’ leftover silk parachutes. And as the war escalates, the events of one fateful evening will upend Clio’s future forever.
 
A moving novel of the search for identity, the challenges of love, and the shared history that defines a family, The Clover House is a powerful debut from a distinctive and talented new writer.

Praise for The Clover House

The Clover House is a gripping, tender story that spans continents and generations as it delves into the secrets of a Greek American family altered by a long-ago tragedy in World War II. Told with quiet power and authenticity, it’s a reader’s treat.”—Kate Alcott, New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker
 
“[A] stunning debut novel.”—USA Today
 
“[An] insightful examination of memory and the stories that hold us together—or perhaps tear us apart.”—The Boston Globe

“A rare treat: an elegantly written debut about a family mystery set during wartime, the slipperiness of memory, and the challenges of forgiveness. Plus, we get to go to Greece! What more could you want from a novel? Read it, read it!”—Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us
 
“A powerful story of family, betrayal, and forgiveness . . . In her first novel, Power melds the stories of mother and daughter into an absorbing tale that deserves to rank high on the list of women’s fiction.”—Booklist
 
“Layered and complex, The Clover House is a provocative examination of family secrets and the things we inherit, a powerful search for self that feels both unique and universal. Henriette Lazaridis Power immerses the reader in a world of tradition and resilience, creating characters who linger long beyond their final pages. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.”—Brunonia Barry, New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First generation Greek-American Callie Notaris Brown has little connection to the homeland her mother fled. But an unexpected inheritance from her Uncle Nestor draws Callie back to Greece for the first time since childhood. Leaving her fiancée behind, she reconnects with relatives and searches for her once wealthy family's lost farm. Soon Callie is drawn into the local Carnival celebration and away from broiling family turmoil. Alongside revelers, Callie journeys into the countryside to find the family farm in spite of a local cousin who mocks her obsession with a past that cannot be traced. Prodded along by cassettes, videos, and pictures found in Uncle Nestor's house, Callie discovers not only the key to the family's wartime misfortunes, but also the source of her mother's complicated ties to Greece. Power does little to freshen this well-worn tale of an immigrant seeking closure in their ancestral homeland. While the family has a compelling legacy, Callie's present-day actions—an unconvincing will-she-or-won't she marriage plot—diminish that story's power. This slow-to-start, seemingly autobiographical novel never opens up enough to transcend the familiarity of its foundation. Agent: Kent D. Wolf, Global Literary Management. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
The Clover House is a gripping, tender story that spans continents and generations as it delves into the secrets of a Greek American family altered by a long-ago tragedy in World War II. Told with quiet power and authenticity, it’s a reader’s treat.”—Kate Alcott, New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker
 
“[A] stunning debut novel.”—USA Today
 
“[An] insightful examination of memory and the stories that hold us together—or perhaps tear us apart.”—The Boston Globe

“A rare treat: an elegantly written debut about a family mystery set during wartime, the slipperiness of memory, and the challenges of forgiveness. Plus, we get to go to Greece! What more could you want from a novel? Read it, read it!”—Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us
 
“A powerful story of family, betrayal, and forgiveness . . . In her first novel, Power melds the stories of mother and daughter into an absorbing tale that deserves to rank high on the list of women’s fiction.”—Booklist
 
“Layered and complex, The Clover House is a provocative examination of family secrets and the things we inherit, a powerful search for self that feels both unique and universal. Henriette Lazaridis Power immerses the reader in a world of tradition and resilience, creating characters who linger long beyond their final pages. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.”—Brunonia Barry, New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places
 
“Well-paced and filled with likable, plausibly flawed characters.”—Kirkus Reviews
 
The Clover House is a tremendously readable story of how family secrets reverberate, how war can force impossible choices, and how a very modern woman faces old longings for her mother’s love and a true home. This is a smart and lovely novel.”—Holly Lecraw, author of The Swimming Pool

Kirkus Reviews
Happily ensconced in Boston with her fiance, Jonah, Callie's only real trouble is her hesitancy about marrying him. That is, until her cousin Aliki phones from Greece to tell her that her beloved Uncle Nestor has died, and the funeral is in two days. So why didn't her mother tell her sooner? Power's debut novel traces Callie's trip to Greece, where she must not only sort through her uncle's effects, but also unravel the mystery of her mother's past. Like her mother, Clio, Callie is named for a muse, and her full name is Calliope Notaris Brown. In shortening her name, she has rejected her Greek heritage. Yet, her mother has rejected her American heritage for her; in fact, for the first weeks of her life in America, Clio papered over the windows of her marital home. Perhaps discovering why her mother kept the news of Nestor's death from her may, in turn, explain why her mother always hated living in America, why her family lost its livelihood during World War II and why her aunts hold her mother responsible for that loss. Callie arrives in Patras, Greece, just in time for carnival, whose ecstatic abandon leads Callie into toying with a liaison of her own, as she uncovers her mother's and uncle's secrets. During the confusing time of the Italian and then German occupation of Greece, every possession could be confiscated, every plan could lead to betrayal, and every love could lead to disaster. Power's tale fluidly shifts among Callie's investigation into her family's past, her search for her own place--is it with Jonah?--and Clio's wartime experiences. Memories inhabit the present, easily holding a mirror between Callie's and Clio's choices in different times, different circumstances. Well-paced and filled with likable, plausibly flawed characters.
Library Journal
Cali Brown learns from her cousin in Greece that their beloved uncle has died and left her the bulk of his estate. This news reaches Cali at a time when, despite a recent engagement, her romantic and family relationships feel less than stable. Unsure of her future marriage and lacking a relationship with her emotionally distant mother, she heads to Greece to sort through the pieces of her family's life and her own. As she combs through her uncle's belongings, she finds remnants of life in Greece during World War II that lead her to question discrepancies in family history and her mother's perpetual sadness. VERDICT This debut novel offers an interesting premise and vibrant setting, but poor editing allows it to be weighed down by unnecessary plot points and shifting narrators. The storyline loses rhythm when historical chapters told from her mother's point of view interrupt Cali's narration. Though family and emotional history are explained, the novel is too uneven for readers to relate to the characters.—Madeline Solien, Deerfield P.L., IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345530684
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 317,768
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Henriette Lazaridis Power is a first-generation Greek-American who has degrees in English literature from Middlebury College; Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar; and the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Harvard for ten years, serving as an academic dean for four of those. She is the founding editor of The Drum, a literary magazine publishing exclusively in audio form. A competitive rower, Power trains regularly on the Charles River in Boston.
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Read an Excerpt

1

Callie

February 2000

On those rare occasions when she couldn’t control the world around her, my mother placed the blame squarely on America, the country she had reluctantly immigrated to from Greece in 1959. My father would retort that there were flaws in Greece too, but she ignored him because he was American.

They met in 1955, when my father was based in Athens with the American mission in Greece, building roads and repairing bridges on the Marshall Plan. For four years, they lived a glamorous life of parties and dances in a city that was working hard to shed the effects of the Second World War and the civil war that followed it. Once they were married and it was time to choose a country, my father won the argument, flying ahead of my mother to purchase what would be their only home. When she joined him in the hair-­sprayed suburbs of parochial Boston, knowing no one and understanding little of American life, my mother’s reaction was quick and certain. To keep what she considered this unsightly world at bay, she took the brown paper from the moving boxes and covered every window of the single-­story house.

She sat inside, fuming at my father and at what she knew lay on the other side of the paper. She glared at the shadows of the neighborhood children as they ran from their yards into hers and out again. They lingered before the covered windows, wondering what was hidden inside, and she watched this shadow theater, thinking of the Karagiozis puppet shows she had watched as a child.

After a week, my father tore the paper down. He led her to the glass and forced her to look out at the jewel-­green lawn and the fat buds on the dogwood tree.

“See,” he said, almost in tears. “It’s beautiful.”

She never agreed. In her mind, my mother never really left that papered-­over room. And I spent my childhood trying to win an invitation to join her there in the Greece that she imagined and remembered.

I know this story about the papered windows because my father told it to me before he died, some ten years ago now. I don’t know what made him tell me. We didn’t see each other very often, so it must have been important to him that I know. Perhaps he knew that I’d be left with only my mother’s stories after he was gone. Perhaps he knew they wouldn’t be good for me without some sort of dilution.

For my entire childhood, until he gave up on the whole project and left, he watched me beg my mother for the stories I learned by heart—­about the grand house in the city of Patras, where my mother and her sisters and brother did whatever they wanted under the benign gaze of their elegant parents; about the farm in the country, where the children climbed trees and ate fresh fruit all day. My mother was always happy to oblige my requests. She would bring out a jar of syrup-­stewed oranges as she talked, spooning out the delicacy she had carried home from our summer trip to Greece into a bowl we would eat from together. I didn’t like the stuff—­the sweetness of the syrup barely covered the bitterness of the citrus—­but I waited my turn with the spoon, happy to be sitting with my mother, nourished by her memories of a better time and place.

Sometimes I would press her to clarify a bit of history or to elaborate on a detail.

“What?” she would say, turning to me with a startled gaze. “What did you say?”

And I would pretend I hadn’t noticed that she’d forgotten all about me. She wasn’t really telling the stories to me; she was simply saying aloud in my presence what she was thinking about every minute of the day.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in Boston in late February when the phone rings and I recognize the city code for Patras. My mother moved back there, newly widowed, and since then we go long stretches without speaking on the phone. It’s better this way. Our most recent conversation several weeks ago ended with her complaining about the rudeness of her two sisters—­women who have shown me nothing but love.

I let the call ring but perch on the couch and finally force myself to answer it. I’m surprised to hear the voice of my cousin, Aliki, on the other end.

“Calliope,” she says.

The short o sound in her Greek pronunciation knocks me into a life that seems to have been just the other side of a thin wall. Legally, I’m Calliope Notaris Brown. I am the latest in a line of Muses in my mother’s family, she being Clio, the daughter of Urania. But Callie Brown is my American camouflage. It makes it easier when I want to tell myself that the Greek part of me doesn’t exist—­that I have no connection to anyone save the people and places I choose. Now one tiny vowel sound has brought it all back. And, with Aliki’s alto, the fear that she is calling to tell me my mother is dead.

“Aliki. What is it?” We haven’t been in touch in a long time, but I speak to her in Greek, as I have always done.

“It’s Uncle Nestor,” she says, the characteristic singsong of her voice taking a melancholy lilt. “He died.”

I feel relief that it’s not my mother, then sadness for Nestor, then shame over my relief. I can see Nestor standing before me five years ago, the last time I saw him, his crinkly black hair streaked with white. Beethoven is playing in the background. “Listen, Calliope. The tympani,” he whispers, his loose fist dotting the air in time with the music. I am sitting on his velvet-­covered couch and we are drinking glasses of red wine.

“What happened?” Nestor would be around seventy now. But I’m sure only a crazy accident can have brought him down.

“It was a heart attack.”

“His heart?”

“They found heart disease the year before last.”

My face goes hot as I realize that I had no idea he was ill. I thought of him as the hale old bachelor who would hike Olympus in bad weather or ski across the French Alps during the holidays from his schoolteacher’s job.

“He didn’t want anyone to know,” she says.

“But he told you.”

“If you had been here, Calliope, it’s you he would have told. He was so proud of you.”

“Proud of me?” A little sob bubbles up.

“Paki,” she says, and I smile at this old nickname. Calliope to Calliopaki—­Little Calliope—­to Paki.

“I’m here. When is the funeral, Aliki?”

“That’s why I’m calling.”

It occurs to me now to wonder why my mother isn’t the one making this call. I imagine her for a second, dizzy with grief, eyes swollen, and unable to dial a number. But the thought shuts down. My mother doesn’t display unsightly emotions.

“The funeral’s Monday,” Aliki says. “I would have called you sooner, but I thought your mother already had.”

“What time?”

“In the morning.”

I think about all my childhood arrivals in the blazing sun of Athens afternoons.

“Aliki, I’ll check the schedules, but I don’t think I can be there in time. I wouldn’t be able to catch a flight until tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry about that. There’s another thing.”

“Is my mother all right?”

“She’s fine.” There’s a tight sound in her voice that I wish I understood. “But there’s the will. You kind of have to come to Patras for the will.” She goes on to explain, somewhat sheepishly, that Nestor has left his squat one-­story house to her and her husband, Nikos, and all its contents, including a pile of boxes and books, to me. He’s also left me two million drachmas, at nearly six thousand dollars a fairly princely sum from someone who lived his life on a teacher’s salary. A princely sum for me too, given the state of my bank account.

“I guess you have to come and sign the form,” she says. “The Acceptance of Inheritance.”

“Aliki, I’d love to come,” I say, regretting the formulation. It’s a death in the family, not a vacation. “But I don’t think I can get away from work right now.” I hold a job raising money for a private school. I speak on the phone with old-­money patriarchs whose names are only slightly more WASP-­ish than mine. “I’m sure I can do it here. The consulate’s a five-­minute walk away.”

“Are you sure you can’t come?” She sounds almost worried now.

“What’s up, Aliki? Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“I don’t want to say.” This isn’t the Aliki I remember. Older than me by three years, she was always defiant and self-­assertive. I used to watch her for lessons on how to stand up to the grown-­ups and later to the men who would catcall her wherever she went.

“Tell me.”

“Well, there’s a reason your mother didn’t call. I don’t think she wanted you to make it here in time, Paki. She’s acting all funny about Nestor leaving you his things.”

“Funny how?”

“Like she doesn’t want you to have them. Or to go through them. I think she figured if she waited long enough to tell you he had died, there’d be some legal way for her to keep his stuff for herself.”

The phone crackles; a car outside on Pinckney Street spins its wheels in the snow.

“Wow,” I say.

“So I think you should try to come, Paki.”

“Yeah,” I say, and it’s almost a whisper.

Nestor’s living room was lined with bookshelves that held plenty of books but mostly metal cases of film and reel-­to-­reel tape. All of Beethoven’s symphonies, recorded from the radio; Nestor’s ascents of dozens of mountains, captured on his 8 mm camera. As a child, a teenager, a college student, I loved when he showed me the films or played me the music. But what I think I loved best was when he would open his wooden cases of seashells or tell me about his glass vials of sand from beaches around the world—­all of it labeled by place and date of collection. He would sit me down on the velvet couch and hand me a vial, asking me to imagine the beach in North Africa or Sardinia where he had filled it at surf’s edge. I promised him I would go to these places and have adventures of my own. But there I let him down, spending more time digging around in my head than in any foreign land, wearing down a path between hope and resignation. I am so sad that my last memory of him dates from as long as five years ago. I know I don’t deserve Nestor’s pride Aliki mentioned to console me.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Callie grapples with the disassociation of being a Greek American, perceiving herself as an outsider in a land that is both familiar and yet wholly foreign. What steps does she take to reclaim this distinct piece of her identity, and does she always go about it the right way? Has she managed to embrace both cultures by the end of the novel, or does she still feel the need to validate herself in the estimation of others?

2. Clio returns to Greece in the wake of her husband’s death, after having lived in America for more than thirty years. Callie considers that “It must have been hard for her to fit back into the Greek life her sisters had been living. Defiantly not American, she was no longer altogether Greek either.” In what ways does Clio’s experience of attempting to assimilate back into a life she left behind mirror Callie’s, and in what ways do they fundamentally differ?

3. Callie clings to the idyllic stories of her mother’s childhood in Greece—-of the “mischief and delight” she shared with her siblings that eventually gave way to darkness and despondency in her adulthood. What was it like for Callie to realize that her version of events had been based on romanticized memories and utter falsehoods? How did this awareness affect her already tenuous connection to her mother?

4. Callie is struck by how submissive Aliki has become in her marriage, which runs completely at odds with her fierce, unyielding nature as a teenager. Discuss how gender roles and expectations differ between American and Greek cultures, and how this has informed relationships and perceptions within the novel. Is it fair for Callie to judge Aliki’s position based on this, and do you think Callie ever comes to see more nuance in Aliki’s behavior than she had originally thought?

5. In her intimate relationships, Callie tends to assume failure. Why does she deny herself happiness time and again? What finally prompts her to change this pattern?

6. The novel takes place during the Greek celebration of Carnival, a time of wild abandon, extravagance, and self--indulgence. Interestingly, Callie is simultaneously seeking to gain a stronger understanding of herself within the context of her family, her relationship, and her culture. In what ways does this backdrop, and the beginning of the Lenten period that follows it, affect these areas of her life, and either help or hinder her from arriving at a place of greater clarity?

7. At one point, Aliki asks Callie which choice is braver: “to live your life every day or to lug some mysterious past around with you as an excuse not to.” Callie is not the only character to be deeply and immutably affected by the past, but is she, as Aliki insinuates, the only one who seems to be stunted from moving forward? How have the others managed to achieve liberation?

8. Clio engages in a high--stakes relationship during the war that costs her family everything, after which she seemingly spends the rest of her life in a state of penance. She abandons her dreams for the future, enters into a dull and troubled marriage, and flees to America only to hide behind draped windows and cast a pall over her household. Do you think it was right for her to behave this way, considering the combination of her naivety and the extreme circumstances she was forced to grow up in? Does Callie’s understanding, forgiveness, and urging enable Clio to absolve herself, at least to a small degree?

9. What about the second, and perhaps heavier, burden that Clio bears: the shame of the betrayal of Yannis? What, if anything, do you think allows her to cast off that burden?

10. How did the novel’s alternating between Callie’s contemporary visit to Greece and her mother’s WWII--era experience affect your reading? Did you feel a stronger sense of empathy for Clio as her story unfurled alongside Callie’s present--day investigation into her elusive past?

11. The war brought on a series of power shifts that blurred the lines between who could be considered an ally and who a foe. As Giorgio tells Nestor, “It’s a war. Times change. Now, Greeks and Italians, we’re on the same side. It’s official. We even gave you Greeks our guns.” How does this shadowy notion of who can and cannot be trusted impact the characters and play upon their sympathies?

12. Nestor’s note to Callie contains a passage she finds perplexing: “What seems important now was once insignificant and will become so again.” What do you make of the meaning? How does this message apply to the novel as a whole?

13. Do you think Callie and Clio are similar in personality, or not? In what ways do they differ and how are they alike?

14. What do you make of the fact that so many of the stories people tell or remember turn out to be untrue? How does that affect your take on the novel as a whole?

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  • Posted April 13, 2013

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Callie has recen

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings
    Callie has recently lost her uncle with whom she was very close to and he has left her everything he has back in his home in Greece where her estranged mother and aunts and cousins live.  She must return to Greece during Carnival to sort through his things where she finds the stories that she grew up listening to from her mother, but for some reason what she finds doesn't mirror the details in the stories that she heard during her childhood.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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