Nights of Rain and Starsby Maeve Binchy
Fiona is a young nurse, trying to make her family understand her need to follow
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Four strangers, with nothing in common but a need to escape, meet in a Greek taverna high above the small village of Aghia Anna. From Ireland, America, Germany and England, they have each left their homes and their old lives, when a shocking tragedy throws them unexpectedly together.
Fiona is a young nurse, trying to make her family understand her need to follow her own path. Thomas desperately misses his young son and fears that his ex-wife will come between them. Elsa abruptly left her career as a television presenter, but someone from her past refuses to let her go. And shy, quiet David is determined to make a stand against his overbearing father. With these four is Andreas, the taverna owner, who badly misses the son who left home nine years ago and has never returned.
Nights of Rain and Stars is the story of one summer and four people, each with a life in turmoil. With the help of Vonnie, a middle-aged Irishwoman who lives in the village and is now a near-native, they find solutions -- though not necessarily the ones they anticipated...
“Satisfying and comforting.”—The Columbus Dispatch
“Engaging…Binchy’s fans will enjoy this summery page-turner.”—Publishers Weekly
“A remarkably gifted writer...a wonderful student of human nature.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Reading one of Maeve Binchy’s novels is like coming home.”—The Washington Post
“Binchy is a grand storyteller in the finest Irish tradition…she writes from the heart.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Binchy’s genius is transforming storytelling into art.”—San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
“Binchy’s tales combine warmth and spunk in a quintessentially Celtic way...In the field of women’s popular fiction, the Dublin storyteller sticks out like a faultless solitaire on a Woolworth’s jewelry counter.”—Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
Andreas thought he saw the fire down in the bay before anyone else did. He peered and shook his head in disbelief. This sort of thing didn’t happen. Not here in Aghia Anna, not to the Olga, the little red and white boat that took visitors out to the bay. Not to Manos, foolish headstrong Manos whom he had known since he was a boy. This was some kind of dream, some trick of the light. That could not be smoke and flames coming from the Olga.
Perhaps he was not feeling well.
Some of the older people in the village said that they imagined things. If the day was hot, if there had been too much raki the night before. But he had gone to bed early. There had been no raki or dancing or singing in his hillside restaurant.
Andreas put his hand up to shade his eyes, and at the same time, a cloud passed overhead. It wasn’t as clear as it had been before. He must indeed have been mistaken. But now he must pull himself together. He had a restaurant to run. If people came all the way up the hilly path, they would not want to find a madman, someone crazed by the sun fancying disasters in a peaceful Greek village.
He continued fixing the red and green plastic-covered cloths with little clips to the long wooden tables on the terrace outside his taverna. This would be a hot day, with plenty of visitors at lunchtime. He had laboriously written the menu on the blackboard. He often wondered why he did it... it was the same food every day. But the visitors liked it; and he would put “Welcome” in six languages, they liked that too.
The food was not special. Nothing they could not have gotten in two dozen other little tavernas. There was souvlaki, the lamb kebabs. Well, goat kebabs really, but the visitors liked to think they were lamb. And there was moussaka, warm and glutenous in its big pie dish. There were the big bowls of salad, white squares of salty feta cheese and lush red tomatoes. There were the racks of barbouni, the red mullet waiting to be grilled, the swordfish steaks. There were the big steel trays of desserts in the fridge, kataifi and baklava—nuts, honey, and pastry. The chilled cabinets of retsina and local wines. People came from all over the world and loved what Andreas, and dozens like him, could provide.
He always recognized the nationality of any visitor to Aghia Anna and could greet them in a few words of their own language. It was like a game to him now, after years of knowing the way people walked and reading their body language.
The English didn’t like if you offered them a Speisenkarte instead of the menu; the Canadians did not want you to assume they were from the United States. Italians did not like being greeted with a Bonjour, and his own fellow countrymen wanted to be thought of as important people from Athens rather than tourists from abroad. Andreas had learned to look carefully before he spoke. He was a tall, slightly stooped man in his sixties, a thick head of gray hair and big bushy eyebrows.
And as he looked down the path he saw the first customers of the day arriving.
A quiet man, wearing those shorts that only Americans wore, shorts that did nothing for the bottom or the legs, but only pointed out the ridiculous nature of the human figure. He was on his own and stopped to look at the fire through binoculars.
A beautiful German girl, tall, tanned, with hair streaked by the sun or a very expensive hairdresser. She stood in silence, staring in disbelief at the scarlet and orange flames licking over the boat in Aghia Anna bay.
A boy in his twenties, small and anxious-looking, with glasses that he kept taking off and wiping. He was openmouthed in horror, looking at the boat in the bay down below.
A couple exhausted after the walk up the hill, they were Scottish or Irish, Andreas thought—he couldn’t quite make out the accents. The boy had a sort of swagger about him, as if he were trying to tell some imaginary audience that the walk had not been difficult at all.
“That’s the boat we were on yesterday.” The girl had her hand over her mouth in shock. “Oh my God, it could have been us.”
“Well, it isn’t, so what’s the point in saying that?” her boyfriend said firmly.
And then, for the first time, Andreas realized that it was true. There was a fire. Not just a trick of the light. There was the sound of an explosion from down in the bay. The others had heard it too. He could not put it down to an old man’s failing eyesight. He began to tremble and hold onto the back of a chair to support himself.
“I must telephone my brother, Georgi, he is in the police station ... maybe they don’t know about it, maybe they cannot see the fire from down there.”
The tall American man spoke gently. “They see it; look, there are lifeboats already on the way.” But Andreas went to make the phone call anyway. Of course there was no answer from the tiny police station up the hill from the harbor.
The young girl was peering down at the innocent-looking blue sea where the ragged scarlet flames and the black smoke seemed like a grotesque blot in the middle of a painting. “I can’t believe it,” she said over and over. “Yesterday he was teaching us to dance on that very boat, Olga, he called it after his grandmother.”
“Manos—that’s his boat, isn’t it?” asked the boy with the glasses. “I was on his boat too.” “Yes, that is Manos,” said Andreas gravely. That fool Manos with too many people on the vessel as usual, with no proper catering facilities but insisting on pouring drink into them and trying to make kebabs with some outdated gas cylinder. But none of the people of the village would ever say any of this. Manos had a family here. They would all be gathered now down by the harbor, waiting for the news.
“Do you know him?” asked the tall American with the binoculars.
“Yes, indeed, we all know everyone here.” Andreas wiped his eyes with a table napkin.
They stood as if transfixed, watching the distant boats arriving and trying to douse the flames, the bodies struggling in the water hoping to be picked up by smaller craft.
The American lent his binoculars to anyone who wanted to see. They were all at a loss for words; too far away to go and help, there was nothing they could do, but still they couldn’t stop looking at the tragedy unfolding below on that innocent, beautiful blue sea.
Andreas knew he should make some move to serve them but somehow it seemed crass. He didn’t want to leave what was left of Manos and his boat and the unsuspecting tourists who had gone out for such a happy holiday cruise. It would be too commercial to start telling these customers about stuffed vine leaves and seating them at the tables he had been preparing.
He felt a hand on his arm. It was the blond German girl. “It’s worse for you—this is your place,” she said.
He felt tears come to his eyes. She was right. It was his place. He had been born here, he knew everyone in Aghia Anna, he had known Olga, the grandmother of Manos, he knew the young men putting their boats out into the tide to rescue the victims. He knew the families who would be standing wailing at the harbor. Yes, it was worse for him. He looked at her piteously.
Her face was kind but she was practical too. “Why don’t you sit down? Please do,” she said kindly. “There’s nothing we can do to help them.”
It was the spur he needed. “I’m Andreas,” he said. “You’re right, this is my place, and something terrible has happened here. I will offer you all a Metaxa brandy for the shock and we will say a prayer for the people in the bay.”
“Is there nothing, nothing that we can do?” asked the English boy with the glasses.
“It took us about three hours to get up this far. By the time we got back I guess we’d only be in the way,” said the tall American man. “I’m Thomas, by the way, and I think we’d be better not be crowding the harbor. See—there are dozens of people there already.” He offered his binoculars so they could see for themselves.
“I’m Elsa,” said the German girl, “and I’ll get the glasses.”
They stood with tiny glasses of the fiery liquid in their hands and raised a strange toast in the sunshine.
Fiona, the Irish girl with the red hair and a freckled nose, said, “May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.”
Her boyfriend seemed to wince slightly at the expression.
“Well, why not, Shane?” she asked him defensively. “It’s a blessing.”
“Go in peace,” said Thomas to the wreck, where the flames had died down and they were in the business of counting the living and the dead.
“L’chaim,” said David, the English boy with the glasses. “It means ‘To life,’” he explained.
“Ruhet in Frieden,” said Elsa with tears in her eyes.
“O Theos As Anapafsi Tin Psihi Tou,” said Andreas, bowing his head in grief as he looked down on the worst tragedy that Aghia Anna had ever known.
* * *
They didn’t order lunch, Andreas just served them. He brought them a salad with goat cheese, a plate of lamb and stuffed tomatoes, and afterward a bowl of fruit. They spoke about themselves and where they had been. None of them were two-week package-tour visitors. They were all in it for the long haul—several months, at least.
Thomas, the American, was traveling and writing an article for a magazine. He had a year off, a proper sabbatical from his university. He said that they were much sought after—a whole year with their blessing to see the world and broaden his mind. Teachers of every kind needed a chance to go out and talk to people of other countries. Otherwise they could get caught up in the internal politics of their own university. He looked somehow a little far away as he spoke, Andreas thought, as if he were missing something back in California.
It was different with Elsa, the German girl. She seemed to miss nothing she had left behind. She said she had grown tired of her job, she realized that what she had thought of as important was in fact shallow and trite. She had enough money saved to finance a year’s travel. She had been on the road for three weeks and never wanted to leave Greece.
Fiona, the little Irish girl, was more uncertain. She looked at her moody boyfriend for confirmation as she spoke of how they wanted to see the world and find somewhere to settle where people wouldn’t judge them, want to improve them, or try to change them. Her boyfriend said nothing either to agree or disagree, just shrugged as if it were all very boring.
David spoke of his wish to see the world while he was still young enough to know what he liked and maybe join it. There was nothing sadder than an old man who found what he was looking for decades too late. Someone who had not shown the courage to change because he had not known what opportunities for change there were. David had only been a month on his road of discovery. His mind was filled with all he had seen.
But even as they talked and told each other a little of their lives in Düsseldorf, Dublin, California, or London, Andreas noted, they said nothing of their families they had left behind.
He told them of life here in Aghia Anna and how the place was rich today, compared to his childhood when no tourists ever came by and a living was earned in the olive groves or minding goats on the hills. He spoke of brothers long gone to America and his own son who had left this restaurant after an argument nine years ago and who had never come back.
“And what did you argue about?” asked little Fiona, with the big green eyes.
“Oh, he wanted a nightclub here and I didn’t—the usual thing about age and youth, about change and not changing.” Andreas shrugged sadly.
“And would you have had a nightclub if it meant he would have stayed at home?” Elsa asked him.
“Yes, now I would. If I had known how lonely it would be to have my only son in Chicago, far across the world and never writing to me ... then, yes, I would have had the nightclub. But I didn’t know, you see.”
“And what about your wife?” Fiona asked. “Did she not beg you to get him back and open the club?”
“She had died, you see. Nobody left to make peace between us.”
There was a silence. It was as if the men were nodding and understanding completely, and as if the women didn’t know what he was talking about.
The afternoon shadows got longer. Andreas served them little coffees and none of them seemed to want to leave. Back down at the harbor there was a hell of other people’s lives. Through the binoculars, they saw bodies on stretchers and crowds gathering and people pushing to see if their loved ones were alive or dead. They felt safer here, up the hill, and even though they knew nothing of each other, brought together like this they talked as if they were old friends.
* * *
They were still talking as the first stars came into the sky. Now, down in the harbor, they could see the lights of flashing cameras and of television teams recording the tragedy to tell to the world. It hadn’t taken long for the news of the disaster to get to the media.
“I suppose they have to do it,” said David with resignation. “But it seems so ghoulish, monstrous, like preying on people’s lives in a tragedy.”
“It is monstrous, believe me, I work in it. Or worked, anyway,” Elsa said unexpectedly.
“A journalist?” David asked with interest.
“I work on a television current affairs show. There’s somebody like me now, at my desk in the studio, asking questions at long distance of someone down there in the harbor—how many bodies have been recovered, how did it happen, are there any Germans among the dead? What you say is true—it is monstrous. I’m glad to be no part of it now.”
“And yet people do have to know about famines and wars—otherwise how can we stop them?” Thomas asked.
“We’ll never stop them,” Shane said. “It’s a matter of money. There’s big money in this kind of thing, that’s why it’s done, that’s why anything’s done in the world.” Shane was different from the others, Andreas thought. Dismissive, restless, anxious to be somewhere else. But then he was a young man, it was natural that he would want to be with his attractive little girlfriend, Fiona, just the two of them, rather than having a conversation with a lot of strangers high on a hill on a hot day.
“Not everyone is interested in money,” David said mildly.
“I didn’t say you had to be, I’m just saying it’s what gets things going, that’s all.”
Fiona looked up sharply as if she had been down this road before, defending Shane for his views. “What Shane means is that that’s the system—it’s not the God in his life nor mine. I certainly wouldn’t be a nurse if it were money I was looking for.” She smiled around at them all.
“A nurse?” Elsa said.
“Yes, I was wondering would I be any use down there, but I don’t suppose ...?”
“Fiona, you’re not a surgeon, you’re not going to amputate a leg down there in a harbor café,” Shane protested. There was a sneer on his face.
“But you know, at least I could do something,” she said.
“For God’s sake, Fiona, get real. What could you do, tell them in Greek to keep calm? Foreign nurses aren’t in high demand at a time of crisis.”
Fiona flushed darkly. Elsa came to her rescue. “If we were down there, I’d say you’d be invaluable, but it would take us so long that I think we’re better off being up here, out of people’s way.”
Thomas agreed. He was looking through his binoculars. “I don’t think you’d even be able to get near the wounded if you were there,” he said reassuringly. “See, there’s such confusion there.” He passed her the glasses, and with trembling hands she looked down at the distant harbor and the people jostling each other.
“Yes, you’re right, I see,” Fiona said in a small voice.
“It must be wonderful being a nurse. I think it means that you’re never afraid,” Thomas said, trying to make Fiona feel better. “What a great career. My mother is a nurse, but she works long hours and doesn’t get paid enough.”
“Did she work while you were a kid?”
“Still does. She put my brother and me through college and we got careers out of all that. We try to thank her and give her a rest, a place to live, but she says she’s programmed to keep going.” “What career did you get out of college?” David asked. “I have a degree in business studies, but it never got me anything I wanted to do.”
Thomas spoke slowly. “I teach nineteenth-century literature at a university. I write a little poetry.” He shrugged as if it weren’t a big deal.
“What do you do, Shane?” Elsa asked.
“Why?” He looked back at her directly.
“Don’t know, probably it’s because I can’t stop asking questions. It’s just that the rest of us said. I suppose I didn’t want you to be left out.” Elsa had a beautiful smile.
He relaxed. “Sure, well I do a bit of this and a bit of that.”
“I know.” Elsa nodded as if this was a reasonable answer.
The others nodded too. They also knew.
Just then, Andreas spoke very slowly. “I think you should all call and tell them back at home that you are alive.”
They looked at him, startled.
He explained what he was thinking. “As Elsa says, this will be on the television news tonight. They will all see, they may know you are here in Aghia Anna, they will think that you might be on the boat of Manos.” He looked around him. Five young people from different families, different homes, different countries.
“Well, the mobile phone doesn’t work here,” Elsa said cheerfully. “I did try a couple of days ago and I thought so much the better, now it’s a real escape.”
“It’s the wrong time of day in California,” Thomas said.
“I’d get the answering machine, they’ll be out again at some business function,” David said.
“It would only be another earful of ‘... dear, dear, look what happens when you leave your nice, safe job and go gallivanting round the world ...,’” said Fiona.
Shane said nothing at all. The notion of phoning home had just never occurred to him.
Andreas stood up at the table and addressed them. “Believe me, when I hear there has been a shooting in Chicago or a flood or any disaster, I wonder to myself could my Adonis be caught up in it. It would be so good if he were to ring ... just a short message to say that he is safe. That’s all.”
“His name was Adonis,” Fiona said in wonder. “Like Adonis, the god of beauty.”
“His name is Adonis,” Elsa corrected.
“And is he an Adonis, with the women, I mean?” Shane asked with a grin.
“I don’t know, he doesn’t tell me.” Andreas’s face was sad.
“You see, Andreas, you’re the kind of father who does care. Some fathers don’t,” David explained.
“Every parent cares, they just have different ways of showing it.”
“And of course, some of us have no parents,” Elsa said in a light voice. “Like me, a father long disappeared, a mother who died young.”
“But there must be someone in Germany who loves you, Elsa,” Andreas said, and then thought perhaps he had gone too far. “I tell you, my telephone is there in the bar. I will open a bottle of wine to celebrate that we are here tonight with all our hopes and dreams still left to us as we sit in another night of stars.”
He went inside and could hear them talking out on the terrace.
“I think he really does want us to use his phone,” Fiona said.
“Well, you just said what you’d be letting yourself in for,” Shane objected.
“Perhaps it’s making too much of it all,” Elsa wondered. They looked again down at the scene below. And there was no argument.
“I’ll call first,” said Thomas.
Andreas stood polishing glasses and listening to their calls. They were a strange little group gathered today in his taverna. None of them seemed at ease with the people he or she called. It was as if they were all running away from something. Each of them sounded like someone escaping from a bad situation.
Thomas’s voice was clipped. “I know he’s at day camp. I just thought, no, it doesn’t matter, believe me I had no agenda. Shirley, please, I’m not trying to make trouble. I was just ... All right, Shirley, think what you like. No, I haven’t made any plans yet.”
David was apprehensive. “Oh, Dad, you’re at home, yes, well of course you should be. It’s just that I wanted to tell you about this accident ... No, I wasn’t hurt ... No, I wasn’t on the boat.” A long silence. “Right, Dad, give my love to Mum, won’t you. No, tell her there’s nothing definite about when I’m coming back.”
Fiona’s conversation was hardly at all about the boat tragedy.
No one seemed to let her talk about it. It was, as Fiona had predicted, some kind of plea to come home. “I can’t give you a date yet, Mam, we’ve been through this a million times. Where he goes I go, Mam, and you must make your own plans for that—it would be much better that way.”
Elsa left two messages on answering machines. Andreas spoke German and he understood perfectly. The first was warm: “Hannah, it’s Elsa. I am in this glorious place in Greece called Aghia Anna, and there was a terrible accident today. People died in a boat tragedy. In front of our eyes. I can’t tell you how sad it was. But in case you wondered if I was involved in it, I wanted to tell you I’m one of the lucky ones. Oh, Hannah, I do miss you and your kind shoulder to weep on. But I weep a lot less now, so possibly I did the right thing to come away. As usual, I’d prefer you not say that you heard from me. You’re such a friend, I don’t deserve you. I’ll get in touch soon, I promise.”
Then she made a second call, and this time her voice was ice-cold. “I wasn’t killed on that boat. But you know that there are times I would not mind if I had been. I don’t pick up e-mails, so save your energy. There is nothing you can say, nothing you can do. You’ve done and said it all. I only call you because I imagine that the studio is hoping that I was either burned in that pleasure-boat fire or that I am standing on the harbor waiting to give an eyewitness account. But I am miles away from it and even more miles away from you and that’s all I care about, believe me.” And Andreas saw the tears on Elsa’s face as she replaced the receiver.
What People are Saying About This
"The sort of book you should take with you on a trip to the Greek islands."—Boston Globe
"Engaging...Binchy's fans will enjoy this summery page-turner."—Publishers Weekly
Meet the Author
Maeve Binchy was born in County Dublin and educated at the Holy Child convent in Killiney and at University College, Dublin. After a spell as a teacher she joined The Irish Times. Her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was published in 1982, and she went on to write more than twenty books, all of them bestsellers. Several have been adapted for film and television, most notably Circle of Friends and Tara Road, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. She was married to writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell for thirty-five years. She passed away in 2012 at the age of seventy-two.
- Dublin, Ireland, and London, England
- Date of Birth:
- May 28, 1940
- Place of Birth:
- Dalkey, a small village outside Dublin, Ireland
- Holy Child Convent in Killiney; B.A. in history, University College, Dublin, 1960
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Let me say this to start: The true beauty of this book is in its reality. In earlier reviews it is stated that these characters were unbelievable and some wouldn't act like they did in the book. Who says? People are not robots, people do and act and say things we wouldn't think they would say. This novel touched me deeply in its beauty and simplicity. Binchy's books are filled to the brim with wonderful characters and down to earth narration. I personally have known Americans who act like Englishman and children who speak well beyond their years. If anything, I would hope this bok would make people be more compassionate with each other and their families. It doesn't take a trip across the world to see and feel what is right, right before your eyes. NIGHTS OF RAIN AND STARS is a book to recommend to anyone who wants just a good story. To sum up: Heartwarming.
This has been my favorite Binchy book, and I have read quit a few, Quintens comes in a close second. With the setting of a Greek island, this story embraced me like a wonderful holiday. I enjoyed the interaction of the characters, which involve residence of the isle, and a group of visitors who climb a picturesque hill to dine at a little restaurant. As the story evolves, the characters learn to care for each other, help each other, and learn a few life lessons in the process. This book feels like sunshine, sparkling ocean, blue skies and love of friends and family. If you love Binchy, you should also try Rosmunde Pilcher.
Having been to Greece recently, I thought this was a lovely tale written to make the reader believe they were actually there. Wonderful description of the towns and landscape. Although it may be a little predicable, I would read it again and WILL recommend it to friends! A nice way to "escape" for a while.
I have been a devoted reader of Maeve Binchy since Light a Penny Candlexo when I picked up Nights of Rain and Stars I expected an awesome read. However, what I got was so much more. The characters were so real I felt that I knew them personally. The setting was so descriptive I felt that I was there in Greece with all of the characters. I didn't want the book to end so I re-read the last chapters.
As a fan of all of Maeve Binchy's books - this was one of the sweeter stories. Predictable, but still will have you happy you read it. It makes one want to believe in the good in people and in small every day miracles. You really do feel as if you're on an enchanted Greek Isle. The setting is beautiful, and the you come to think of the characters as your friends.
May you rest in peace knowing you have bought laughter and tears in one paragraph of your many books. I always hoped to come to Ireland one day and have you autograph a book for me but instead you went to be in heaven among the other stars. I LOVED NIGHTS and STARS!!!
What a great story all the separate lives that were intertwined and separated out thru the whole novel. Great!
My first Maeve Binchy book was Echoes (review), which I read about two years ago on a trip to Florida. I really enjoyed that book and knew that I had to see what else Binchy has written. I picked this one up at my local used book store, but unfortunately, it sat on my shelf for quite a while. I finally got around to and I'm glad I did. This was a good story and the setting of Greece was beautifully written! Elsa, Thomas, Fiona, and David come from four different countries and have never met before one night at a small Greek tavern. They each come from wildly different backgrounds and are each struggling with something from their past. They've all run away from home (in a sense) and don't want to go back. Throughout the book, we learn what each of their secrets are. This book was very simply written, which is one of the things I loved about Binchy's writing in Echoes. She has a way with words to make everything so beautiful without feeling like they're big fancy sentences. Does that make sense? There are some bigger moments in this book, but I really love that it's just a story about four people's lives and how they learn to grow and let go of their larger issues. And like I said, the setting described in this book is beautiful! Thankfully, I've been to Greece before, so I was able to picture the setup of the islands a little easier having seen some for myself first-hand. It truly makes me want to go back and enjoy the culture of Greece again. Pagesofcomfort.blogspot.com
Leading up a slope, grass flattened by steps of ancients, a shimmering pool of watee that sparks with stars lays. This is Moonpool, Rainclan's way to communicate with Starclan.
I really enjoyed this book and I agree that I can't understand why it got such bad reader reviews.
He pads in, sizing up his sisters apprentice.