The Lovers by Vendela Vida. Published in 2010.
Synopsis: Recently widowed, Yvonne returns to the coastal village in Turkey where she and her husband honeymooned twenty-eight years ago. The week she had set aside for vacation doesn’t go quite as expected. Once in Turkey, she comes face-to-face with her aloneness, and discovers an unlikely cast of friends – including the wife of her landlord and a young boy who sells shells at the beach. When unexpected tragedy strikes, Yvonne finds herself evermore entagled in a foreign culture that increasingly doesn’t know what to make of her solitary travels.
About the Author: Vendela Vida is the author of 2 fiction books – Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name and And Now You Can Go – and 2 nonfiction books – The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers and Girls on the Verge. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband (author Dave Eggers) and children.
My Initial Reactions to this Book
Normally, when I’m reading a novel (or any book for that matter), I divide my reading sessions into chapters, reading one or a few in each sitting. This couldn’t be done with this novel, as there are no chapters and it reads like one long story. However, once I got about 10 pages in I didn’t mind this format at all. The novels is that good, and can easily be read in a single sitting.
I was first introduced to Vendela Vida when I was on the Elle Magazine Reader’s Prize Fiction Jury. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name was the best novel I read that year (2007). That novel was set in Finland, and not only was it a story about a young woman’s search for her true identity, it was a partial exploration of Sami life in northern Finland.
I was excited when I learned that The Lovers was set in Turkey. I thought, “great! another new place to explore!” I think that’s what I love best about Vida’s writing, that it is anthropological and entertaining at the same time. I have never been to Turkey, but clearly Vida did her homework in capturing the essence of being there.
Central to the book is Yvonne’s experience of being an American woman, a widow travelling alone, in a country that questions her solitariness. I am reminded of how many cultures shun widows and believe their bad luck in bringing about death to be contagious. This is evident in the maid running away at the site of an owl (a bad omen) burrowing in Yvonne’s rented home, and how she was shunned after Ahmet’s death.
I was also touched by the true warmness and friendship Yvonne experienced during her travels in Turkey – the openness that Ozlem shared with both Yvonne and her daughter, the friendship that Ahmet enjoyed despite language barriers, her relationship with Aylin at the end of the book, and even Deniz inviting her onboard her boat for a glass of iced tea during her ocean swim.
Throughout my international travels (many of them solitary), I have also been unexpectedly surprised by the generosity and friendship of people’s invitations and desire to share with a foreigner. Most Americans, it seems, tend to be the opposite – shunning anyone who is different from them. How many people do we encounter for just a short period of time during the course of our lives, who ultimately end up having a profound impact on its outcome?
Have you read The Lovers, and if so, what did you think of the book? Have you read any of Vendela Vida’s other books? Please share your opinion in the comments section below.
Next up for discussion will be Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Olive Kitteridge. Discussion begins April 7th.