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Traveling Light
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Traveling Light

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by Andrea Thalasinos
     
 

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Paula Makaikis is ashamed of her marriage. Driven out of their bedroom by Roger's compulsive hoarding, she has spent the past ten years sleeping downstairs on her husband's ratty couch. Distant and uninspired, Paula is more concerned with the robins landing on her office window ledge than her hard-earned position at the university.

Until a phone call changes

Overview

Paula Makaikis is ashamed of her marriage. Driven out of their bedroom by Roger's compulsive hoarding, she has spent the past ten years sleeping downstairs on her husband's ratty couch. Distant and uninspired, Paula is more concerned with the robins landing on her office window ledge than her hard-earned position at the university.

Until a phone call changes everything.

A homeless Greek man is dying in a Queens hospital and Paula is asked to come translate. The old man tells her of his beloved dog, Fotis, who bit a police officer when they were separated. Paula has never considered adopting a dog, but she promises the man that she will rescue Fotis and find him a good home. But when Fotis enters her life she finds a companion she can't live without. Suddenly Paula has a dog, a brand-new Ford Escape, an eight-week leave of absence, and a plan.

So Fotis and Paula begin the longest drive of their lives. In northern Minnesota, something compels her to answer a help-wanted ad for a wildlife rehabilitation center. Soon Paula is holding an eagle in her hands, and the experience leaves her changed forever.

An inspiring story about fate, family, and healing, this novel explores what is possible when we cut the ties that hold us down and the heart is free to soar.
Traveling Light by Andrea Thalasinos is an inspiring story about fate, family, and healing.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Ashamed of her marriage, uninspired at work, Paula Makaikis' only interest is feeding the birds on the ledge outside her office window. That is, until fate forces her to open the door to her own cage. Once the gifted, formidable head of the Center for Immigrant Studies at NYU, lately she's been content to let ambitious, younger colleagues take the reins. Ten years ago she'd married Roger only to have his hoarding push her out of his bed and out of his life. An urgent phone call from her childhood friend Celeste irrevocably redirects Paula's life. Celeste needs Paula to translate for an elderly homeless man who speaks only Greek, has lost his beloved dog to Animal Control and has only hours to live. Paula races to the hospital to find she recognizes this man--as a child, she'd called him Theo, but her mother mysteriously refuses to tell Theo's real name or his true connection to Paula. Promising Theo that she will take care of his dog, Paula becomes the owner of a wolf hybrid named Fotis ("light" in Greek). Spontaneously, Paula and Fotis hit the road, traveling north, ending up at a wildlife rehabilitation center on the Minnesota shores of Lake Superior. She is intuitively adept at handling fierce birds since she, too, knows what it means to have one's freedom clipped. As she helps heal wild eagles, Paula, of course, heals herself. She has the guidance of some new friends, including Rick, an attorney who left his own smothering job and unhappy marriage to found the refuge. Like her debut (An Echo Through the Snow, 2012), Thalasinos' sophomore novel beautifully evokes the emotional resonances of broken hearts and disappointed dreams. Yet the connection between damaged birds and damaged humans, although metaphorically neat, is too easy. Loose ends and overdrawn symbols mar this richly written tale.
From the Publisher

“Destined to become a classic.” —Susan Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of One Good Dog, on An Echo Through the Snow

“An historic, inspiring, and uplifting race to the finish.” —Modern Dog on An Echo Through the Snow

“Compelling and evocative.” —Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. author of The Other End of the Leash, on An Echo Through the Snow

“Powerful debut...stark, gorgeous prose and a timeless story of love realized, lessons learned, and paths taken.” —Booklist (starred review) on An Echo Through the Snow

“Beautifully drawn and emotionally resonant.” —Kirkus Reviews on An Echo Through the Snow

“An immensely readable story about how dogs heal us and lead us, sometimes through harsh cold and deep snow, to places of great beauty and safety.” —Stacie Williams, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on An Echo Through the Snow

“Delicate and vivid...an elaborate weaving of past and present.” —Michelle Diener, author of In a Treacherous Court, on An Echo Through the Snow

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765333025
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
07/16/2013
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.08(w) x 8.32(h) x 1.19(d)

Read an Excerpt

Traveling Light


By Andrea Thalasinos

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2013 Andrea Thalasinos
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3302-5


CHAPTER 1

It had started out as one of the last quiet days of August. Down on West 4th Street overlooking Washington Square Park, Paula Makaikis worked as director of the Center for Immigrant Studies at NYU. The maples were beginning to singe red and orange; it was the twilight in between seasons right before the start of the new semester, when autumn surprises everyone with the first few mornings of chilly, fresh air.

Paula was struggling to relax by sneaking a cigarette. She stared out the office window, blowing smoke out the sullied bluish-black edge of the window screen.

While relieved the staff was gone for an early birthday lunch, the sting of their backhanded invitation still lingered. They'd gone to the Thai place everyone raved about. Paula likened the food to the detritus one clears from a kitchen sink.

"Paula?" Guillermo, the associate director, had asked. "You will join us, no?" He'd smirked and stepped back, folding his arms and shaking his sandy-colored pin curls. This was the man she'd called in every favor to hire, despite allegations he was a prima donna and intellectual lightweight. They'd believed he was banking on the legacy of his great-granddad who'd been assassinated, a leftist president from some Latin American country. The associate director's smirk also triggered a dimple that he knew to strategically turn toward the young grad assistants, through whom Paula guessed he was working his way. A shaft of sunlight had broken through autumn's early rain cloud, backlighting Guillermo's hair as if he stood center stage in Jesus Christ Superstar.

"Paula-a-a?" Guillermo drew out her name.

The staff cringed, hoping she'd say no. She felt it. No one thinks the boss has feelings. Her chest ached for a cigarette; and while she hated smoking, the road to destruction was paved with comfort.

"Thanks but ..." She'd gestured toward her computer screen. A half-written copy block for the Web page announced the daily schedule for October's Conference on the Seven Stages of Immigrant Adaptation. "I'm hoping to tie up more loose ends." Yeah, right, keep hoping, she thought.

Several of her staff harbored resentment over last month's trip to Greece. This was the first time Paula had accompanied her mother on the annual weeklong trip. At eighty, traveling alone had become too difficult for Eleni; and, at the last minute, Paula agreed to help. Though she'd been back nearly a month, the staff still avoided eye contact — like she'd been hobnobbing on Scorpios with Onassis instead of cooped up in the mothball-smelling apartments of Eleni's ninety-year-old first cousins. "Christos kai Panayia, may that be it," Eleni had pronounced in the cab on the way back to the Athens airport. "What pushy people, eh?" She'd looked to her daughter for confirmation, but Paula was watching a handsome young man cup his girlfriend's ass. Paula sighed; were it possible to die of aggravation, she'd have been riding back to JFK in cargo.

The conference schedule should have been finalized in April. Complaints were streaming into the Dean's office. People carped to Christoff about mismanagement and having to make last-minute hotel and airline reservations. Yet despite the hullabaloo, Paula was preoccupied with the male cardinal that had landed on her window ledge.

Paula sighed, her cigarette a long line of white ash. She was sharp-tongued and sad eyed, with wild dark hair that no amount of expensive hair product would tame. Her eyes were light amber, a color that no one could recall having seen in either side of the family, that clashed with her drab olive complexion.

Three narrow silver Victorian bangles pinged together quietly like little bells as she pressed her stomach with her hand. Her gut churned. Early that morning she'd polished off yesterday's half-eaten Egg McMuffin she'd tucked behind the computer monitor. Though its crinkly wrapper smelled of her cigarettes, the muffin felt fresh. As for the egg and Canadian bacon, in an office kept so frigid they wore sweaters year-round, she took her chances. The birds had scarfed up the crumbled bits of muffin she'd placed out onto the stone ledge. At one time she'd kept a bag of birdseed tucked beneath her desk, but the janitor left a note about it being a rat magnet.

Every day she set something out. Usually sparrows and chickadees gathered, with an occasional visit from an overly empowered blue jay. Pigeons avoided the ledge for some reason, and she was grateful to be spared the criticism of feeding "flying rats." Birds would swoon as they'd land and peck at one another before looking questioningly at her through the glass. Their tan and brown feathers wove into perfect herringbone patterns where their wings met. Then they'd burst off in unison, like they'd been summoned.

Her window ledge was a regular stop on the circuit. It was relaxing to watch, reminding her of the years she spent between high school and college working in a pet store on Union Turnpike in Queens. Those were the most meaningful years she'd spent working anywhere, explaining to people how to care for their pets, finding homes for the animals — an event always tinged with sadness, but also happiness. Despite all the personal turbulence of her early years, days spent handling birds, guinea pigs, snakes and a mean-spirited chinchilla named Chilly were some of her most enjoyable ones.

During long staff meetings she'd excuse herself to dash downstairs to the basement vending machines. Repeatedly inserting a wrinkled dollar bill, she'd impose her will onto the electronic sensor until it caved. She'd get a Pop-Tart to crumble into small pieces for the birds, lest they think she'd abandoned them.

Guillermo would sometimes glance from his desk, watching as Paula spread crumbs. She could feel him watching. "Ella poulakia," she'd murmur to them in Greek. How pathetic she looked. The whole staff found the devotion odd, yet glimpses of their boss's loneliness were too raw to make fun of. Everything else was fair game — the bird-feeding, brilliant, dowdy director who had donned princess jewels and was obsessed with hair-straightening product. She'd given them a lot of material.

So far she'd frittered away the entire morning bird-watching, stalking and swatting flies instead of returning her email. Then the Dean called.

"Paula. What the hell is up?" Christoff slowly enunciated each word. "For God sakes people are calling; they need to know if they're presenting; you haven't returned e-mails in weeks." It was a mouthful and she heard him pausing to lick his lips, as they typically dried out during confrontation. "Is ... everything all right ... at home?"

It took her by surprise. She'd anticipated a collegial nudge but not a probing. There'd always been special warmth between them since it was twelve Junes ago in Christoff's living room that she'd been introduced to Roger.

"Take the work home — get a bottle of wine," Christoff instructed. "Go through the papers and decide. There you can smoke yourself to death." Six months ago she'd have eaten her own entrails to avoid this conversation.

Funny how no one complained about smoking at department parties when everyone was drunk and puffing away, trading sly looks, being so clandestinely dangerous. Cool like Che Guevara. Paula had grown up to Eleni walking around, lips pursed, gripping a cigarette, farting as she explained how smoking helped her move her bowels. Vassili never wasn't smoking. Even in the shower, an ashtray was balanced on the windowsill. He and Demos would have smoked as they delivered food had it been allowed. Paula would have bet a paycheck Alexandros had smoked as he'd checked for gas leaks. Smoking was their way to give life the finger.

Paula tugged on her dark bangs, a habit from childhood. Humidity was springing them into corkscrew coils. "Shit," she sighed deeply. One thing was clear; though her work and home life were on the verge of collapse, they also threatened to grind on forever. The boss doesn't walk away with grant money sprouting on trees. And with a third marriage you force yourself into acceptance.

Life was easier when she alone comprised the Center for Immigrant Studies. But after ten years of meteoric success, grant money pouring in, people begged her for a chance to hop onto the gravy train. The Center had taken on a life of its own; it had reared its quantitative wings and turned on her, confronting her like an alien creature out of her control. Her staff regarded her as an artifact — by their sighs, silences and expressions, she knew. And in the quiet, still moments she believed it, too.

And if the staff elbowed her aside she let them. For better or worse, Guillermo was the hungry one, the ascending boss. She felt it, knew it, and he was better at it anyway. Sometimes gaining footsteps in the stairwell prompted a glance over her shoulder, wondering if he would just as soon shove her down the stairs like some nut-job in late-night reruns of Murder She Wrote.

Turning fifty last month hadn't helped. She'd been unexpectedly rattled. Music from the Weather Channel made her tear up. While standing behind a broad-shouldered, heavily tattooed Polynesian-looking man in McDonald's on her birthday she'd fought the urge to rest her head against his back. It looked so nice and comfortable.

But all hating aside, Guillermo was right. A delegator she wasn't. He was the stronger one. She had neither the heart nor the backbone to tell her staff what to do. It seemed bossy and mean, and she'd gotten enough of that in childhood. And while Greece is long credited with being the Birthplace of Democracy, the Greek family couldn't have been credited with its conception. She'd more "suggest" to the staff than issue directives. At first they were elated by their good fortune at getting the "cool boss." But within weeks she'd get the stink-eye when asking them to do something that interfered with their coffee breaks.

Roger was stronger, too. So were the flies she couldn't kill and the recurring plantar wart on the bottom of her heel for which she lacked the endurance to follow through with the directions on the package and tend to every night.

She smoothed back her hair and sighed. "Dendron," Eleni likened her hair to the tree-like seaweed that washed ashore on their ancestral island within view of the Turkish coast. Her relatives had hopped from one tiny island to another only to then be stranded with eight million people between two rivers on the other side of the world. Such was her inspiration for creation of the Center — to gain understanding and perspective and maybe even to bridge the gap between grandparents who'd been shepherds on a remote island with no running water and a granddaughter with a Ph.D., who taught at a college, was married to kseni and lived in Manhattan.

Paula's stylist had promised transmutation through a new hair-straightening product. But product isn't alchemy. Not the miracle tears allegedly cried from an icon of Panayia, witnessed by an old widow living on the sun-bleached island of Kos, where some still hang out the bloody sheet after a wedding night. Paula wound back her hair and clipped it even though it exposed the gray roots. Damn, there were so many things to worry about. Her bangs had spiraled like bedsprings to her hairline; it looked like her grandmother's 1920 immigrant passport photo.

Roger didn't mind Paula's hair. Curly, frizzy, straight, he didn't care. Neither did he care if she was fat or thin or wore makeup. For months they'd avoided eye contact, and she wondered if he could pick her out of a police lineup. Sometimes comfort is born of neglect — a fine line between acceptance and not caring at all.

Roger was the strongest yet most fragile man she'd every known. He'd take a bullet for her yet wouldn't move the piles of crap off his bed to clear space for her. Shoulder-high stacks of astro- and particle physics journals served as his foot- and headboards; piles of clothes draped over chairs to form haystacks. The closets were packed and rendered useless long before Paula'd arrived. Yet she'd doggedly believed that the magic of those first months of courtship (along with a Greek church wedding) had formed a sacred union. Her commitment was such that she'd never once doubted that someday one of them would bury the other.

Her first glimpse of Roger in Christoff's living room years ago had left her thinking that he looked "humanoid." His shiny pink head and sharp-ridged cheekbones made the skin look newly stretched — dewy, like he'd just stepped out of a pod where he'd been spawned. But, except for Heavenly and Tony, Roger was the only person with whom she didn't have to fake a laugh.

She was enthralled by his electric blue eyes — alight from years of peering deep within the recesses of the universe, into the spaces between particles — and even more by how his penetrating gaze sought that which bound her together. From that first meeting on, his unusually intense stare made her knees relax and part ever so slightly. "The urge to merge," he used to joke.

Roger's eyes were framed by white eyebrows, those you'd expect to see on Santa. After they'd make love Paula would run a finger over one and then the other in wonderment at their silky fur. She'd marveled at the tenderness in her heart. This was the shard that pierced — that he cherished her in a way her parents hadn't, in a way no one had. She'd kneel on the couch on the lookout for Roger after he phoned from his office at Columbia saying he was on his way. Like a joy-struck, besotted dog at the window, twitching with anticipation for the first signs of her master. Even the sounds of Roger rummaging upstairs at all hours of the night in his vampire way were comforting. It was a landing spot she'd fought long and hard to find. And while she was prepared to do battle to make this one work, little had Paula known that Roger would require full surrender and retreat.

And so it would be until the day she left for lunch and never came back.


* * *


The first time she stepped into the foyer of Roger's brownstone she'd caught a whiff of musty basement odor. As Roger unlocked the door and stepped inside, he must have had second thoughts, and then turned, using his large frame to block Paula's view.

"Hey — what are you doing?" She'd chuckled and turned it into a game by poking him where she knew he was ticklish. As he ducked and grabbed his sides, she glanced past his shoulder, eager to see what he didn't want her to. The cardboard boxes.

"You moving?" It was an innocent enough question.

"No."

She'd squinted in dim light to get a better look. "Looks like you are."

"Ummm ... I'm just reorganizing — ignore all of this," he issued the disclaimer, and seemed edgy. She'd never seen him unsure or tense.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she panned the foyer. There was a lot to ignore. Boxes piled several high, stacks of academic journals, some to the top of her head.

"Most of this was my parents'."

Peeking around the corner, she spotted a pile of folded Oriental rugs stacked on top of a piano (she could see the legs) so high they grazed the white plaster ceiling medallion. It looked like a madman's warehouse.

"I'm sorting," he'd explained. "Cleaning — I hadn't planned on company."

She looked at him. The comment stung. She was on the verge of saying, Hey, bucko, you invited me here, but didn't. A self-imposed gag order set into motion with a silent agreement.

"'Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,'" Roger deflected her with a joke. It worked; she laughed. "And don't worry," he said, looking deep into her with those eyes of his, "If we get married we'll sort this all out and make it our place." He'd lowered his face, his breath tickling her skin.

"Marriage?" she joked, play-shoving him back. She then stepped onto the tops of his boat-like shoes, facing him as he began walking her out the door. She'd slipped her arms around his neck and drew him closer. "Who said anything about marriage?"

And so she'd laughed along with her witty beau. Who keeps a tower of three-legged broken chairs, tangled and intertwined like a strand of DNA? A thick layer of frost-like dust like that doesn't accumulate overnight? But like many women hopelessly mired in the throes of early hormonal love, Paula turned a deaf ear, instead hearing only refrains of "love will find a way" whirling about in her poor love-starved heart.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Traveling Light by Andrea Thalasinos. Copyright © 2013 Andrea Thalasinos. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

ANDREA THALASINOS, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Madison College. She is the author of An Echo Through the Snow, an inspiring novel that combines her longstanding passions for dogs, nature, and native peoples. Andrea lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Traveling Light 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Paula Makaikis is a smart woman who has earned a Ph.D. and is now working at the Center for Immigrant Studies at NYU.  She doesn’t really fit in with her colleagues who view her as in charge and yet odd.  It’s fall and she’s feeling uneasy, restless, unable to concentrate on her work, and in obvious need of something she just can’t grasp.  She’s also married to a brilliant astrophysicist who just happens to be a messy hoarder.  So deep is his problem that Paula sleeps on a ratty couch at night because of all the boxes and notes on the side of the bed where she should be sleeping as his wife of ten years.  Yes, once upon a time there was a brief initial fling of romance but now it’s an occasional Sunday afternoon coupling that seems more of a chore than anything – Paula’s description of it is quite blunt but laced with sadness and frustration. One phone call dramatically changes it all for Paula.  An old Greek friend, Theos, has become so ill it seems he is about to expire, and Paula’s friend, “Heavenly,” asks Paul to translate, neither knowing who this stranger is until Paula gets to the hospital.  The one thing Theos can mutter is the word, “Fotis,” a Greek word for “light.” It turns out it’s Theos’ dog who is now Paula’s new mate, one she has much to learn about but who quickly becomes significantly attached to!  She can’t bring him home because her husband, Roger, wouldn’t stand for it. So she decides to take an eight week leave of absence from work and heads out of New York City to visit an old mentor friend.  The journey will be life-changing. Before she arrives at her destination, she sees an ad for a job helping someone take care of birds.  Intrigued, she calls for the job and is interviewed and accepted, with some unspoken reservations by Rick, her boss.  Paula quickly falls in love with the area where she’s temporarily living close to the Canadian border.  It turns out Rick owns a wild-life rehabilitation center where he takes in injured animals.  Here Paula falls in love with injured eagles, foxes, and other animals.  Her endearing Greek phrases she utters to these suffering animals calms them during their most discomfiting treatments and examinations.  She gets to know the owner of the local IGA grocery store and Rick quickly recognizes her tremendous skill as his assistant. Then Paula’s mother, Elena, comes to visit and her own journey in this small town is one of healing and awakened joy.  Elena shares a stunning secret with Paula that further changes her vision of the past and future.  A trip back to New York to honestly assess the situation with Roger provides all she needs for the future. Traveling Light: A Novel is a beautiful story about facing the truth, what can be accepted and what cannot be endured, how important it is to follow one’s true career, and a natural love and respect for nature that is more important than any intellectual endeavor.  There’s something for everyone’s life journey, something worth passion and commitment.  Sometimes one has to let go to truly live!  Lovely, beautiful, and honest contemporary fiction.  Nicely done, indeed, Andrea Thalasinos!  Highly recommend this novel for those who love a good story about what really matters!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took a little while to get into the story, but once I did, I was enjoying it. Character & relationship development could have been better, but what really makes me give it 2 stars is the ending. It was so abrupt that I truly thought the Nook edition had lost some of the last papers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maybe at times too long on animal descriptions but...i really loved this book, the characters, the thought of changing your life...i loved it all. I was so elated that it ended how i hoped. I want paula to finally be happy. This is a story about a woman who gave up in a so so sorry situation for the better. Bravo. This willnot disappoint.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago