Chrissie's Reviews > The House on Paradise Street

The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff
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Oct 08, 13

bookshelves: bbc, hf, greece, 2012challenge
Read from April 28 to May 04, 2012

I recommend this book to those of you are interested in understanding the problems of modern day Greece, its current economic crisis and the violence of street protests. It may surprise many. ”My gosh! This is a book of fiction,” you will exclaim. To understand today’s current problems it is always best to look at the past. Greece’s recent past is one of oppressive regimes. That is only my opinion, of course. This book follows a family during the German occupation of Greece during WW2, the growth of Communism, the Civil War that followed, English and American manipulation of Greek affairs, the Colonel’s Junta 1967-1974 and all the way up to the present. The last chapter takes place in 2010. Although this is fiction, it is based on real life experiences, experiences of members of the author’s family and of other close acquaintances. I found the book fascinating and gripping. Really, what is told is not fiction at all!

In a nutshell this book tells the story of an English woman who marries a Greek. He is 20 years her senior, has had two wives before her, and has had a difficult childhood. He has grown up with his aunt, his mother having fled to Russia after the Greek Civil War. When the book opens he has died in a car accident. The book is concerned with the English woman’s discovery of whom exactly her husband was and how Greek history has shaped the lives of this family, going back to the catastrophic Fire of Smyrna in 1922.

I enjoyed learning what it is to be Greek, today. Their food, their customs, why they all honk at crowded intersections, why politics is what is discussed around the dinner table, how villagers live life differently from Athenians. This is a book that shows how history shapes who we are. It demonstrates that civil war can cut right down through the center a family. I live in Europe. I find it completely fascinating to see how history shapes the people of each country and makes them unique.

I immigrated to Sweden when I was young. In this novel the young English woman marries a Greek and soon has a child. Her experiences as a foreigner in a new land reflect many of my own experiences. What was it like to be newlywed and have a child in a new country? What is it like to celebrate different holidays, to enjoy these new celebrations but to not really feel at home in them? What is it like to have a new language and not really understand all the jokes? How does one make one’s own family traditions? Being in a new country is very exciting, but also sometimes a bit of a challenge, to say the least! Although the new is exciting and fun, sometimes one aches for the old and familiar ant that which is understood. So of course this book spoke to me! It didn’t matter that Greeks and Swedes are so very different. It was the excitement of the new and the realization that one is different that was similar.

And a grandmother not living with her grandchildren but getting to know them when they are older, that speaks to me too. Not all families grow up together. Many are split. What are the consequences?

This book spoke to me of experiences I have lived, taught me about Greece and what it is to be Greek. I enjoy learning about different European cultures. We all rub shoulders here in Europe. It is important to understand each other. History is the key.

Another extremely moving and informative book about the Greek Civil War, which I highly recommend, is Eleni.



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BEFORE READING:
I know I am terribly weak when it comes to books. I stopped listening at BBC and bought the paper book! I am reading it now.

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This looks good! An epic novel about a Greek family during the second world war and the civil war. I will check it out at BBC at this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/?q=The%20...
(no longer valid perhaps!)

Here is the book info I find at BBC:
Sofka Zinovieff's novel about an Englishwoman's quest to find out the origins of the bitter feud that has split her dead husband's family is set in contemporary Athens, but takes us back to the tragic events of the Greek Civil War in the 1940s. When Maud's husband Nikitas is killed in a mysterious car crash, his aunt Alexandra tells Maud she should contact his mother Antigone in Moscow. Antigone left Greece nearly sixty years ago, leaving Nikitas behind, and has never returned. Now she makes a momentous decision: she will go back for her son's funeral. Abridged by Sarah LeFanu

Read by Ann Beach and Lucy Briers Producer: Sara Davies.


This starts wonderfully - so good, that maybe I will stop and buy the book instead! I really disapprove of abridged books......
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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Laura great job Chrissie!!


message 2: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia If it's of interest, why leave it. I'm sure you would regret if you hadn't bought the book.


message 3: by Chrissie (last edited May 01, 2012 11:24AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie I left the BBC reading because it was an abridged version. I wanted to read the unabridged book. I am currently reading it.


message 4: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia I agree with your point of view. I tried to listen, using you link, but it's no longer available


Chrissie It is maddening at BBC when the links get discontinued. It is also hard to find stuff. You might try searching by the author's name. Sometimes you do find the book by doing that.


message 6: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Thank you, I 'll try. Otherwise I see if I can get the book via my library


Chrissie Sylvia, I tried to find it on BBC for you. Only the latter episodes are still available.I seached with the author, and then the title. sometimes I write the title followed by the episode I want to hear, in this case "House on Paradise Street Episode 1". I came up with nothing. I found only episodes above 8......

My take on the book: the story-line is interesting, but the writing style isn't that special. Not bad, but not amazing either...... I am still not done. I have kind of gotten hooked onto my audio book by rose Tremain, The Colour.

I am trying to read two books at once - one in paper that I read at home and an audio book that I can take anywhere with me. The problem is not that I confuse them but that I usually end up preferring one. That is the one I read. I do not understand how people read two books at once. I am hopeless at this. I am trying to learn.


message 8: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Chrissie wrote: "Sylvia, I tried to find it on BBC for you. Only the latter episodes are still available.I seached with the author, and then the title. sometimes I write the title followed by the episode I want to ..."

Thank you so much for your effort to help me find the audio book at the BBC. I have put the book on my to read list, because you recommended it in this conversation.

What's the problem reading one book at the time. At least you've got involved in the story much more than I do. I'm normally reading at least 3 till 5 books at the same time. That sound nice, but in fact it isn't, because when I pick up one of them I have to remember where I ended last.
I have a problem listening to audio books. Most of the time I fall asleep, even if the book is interesting. :):):)


Chrissie I hate reading several books at the same time. My problem is that I can only read pape rbooks with a huge scanner that sits on my desk. My vision sucks, so I need the scanner. At the same time I have to have a book with me when I go places, so I have tried reading an audio book and a paper book at the same time.

Now, reading this book and The Colour is driving me up a tree!!! I have decided I must finish one at a time. I will complete Tremain's first since I am reading that with another person.....

I read such an interesting part of House on Paradise Street this morning. It is about how the main protagonist felt when she was newly married in Greece and her child was born. I cannot help but compare my own experiences when I moved to Sweden and my first child was born. Here feelings and mine are so comparable, not exact the same of course, but there is lots to think about. Greeks and Swedes are oh so different. I find the Greek history during the war and the Resistance very interesting. (I can highly recommend the gripping biography Eleni about the Greek Civil War. That is a tremendous book! This is the book that got me in to the Greek 1900s.)

So I have explained what I like.....but one never knows what another will like.

I also like how grandparents and grandchildren can feel about each other if they hardly know one another. I recognize that too.... There is also archeology in the book, the story taking place in Greece. I think if I were to choose another occupation, if I were still a kid (ha ha) I would choose that! You spend all day digging outside and getting exercise. Then you go in and look in books and study what you have discovered. Right up my alley. On the other hand how do you put kids in that life?! And I could not give up having kids. No way - raising kids is so fantastic too. Anyhow, I like the book. I have told you enough, haven't I? You must decide if you might like the book.


Chrissie P.S. if I fall asleep then I rewind the audio book. I thought this would be a bigger problem than it is.

What I like about audio books is that you "read" them slower. The writing has to be something worth savoring.

Others like mysteries on audios. I do not.


message 11: by HuhWhat (new)

HuhWhat You've sold me with your review, Chrissie ! I'd like to read about other peoples experiences when moving to a new place & starting a life, I'm always curious to hear other people's stories :)


Chrissie Simran, moving is both challenging and enriching. I find Greek 1900 history fascinating. The chapters alternate between those told by the English woman and her husband's mother - Antigone. Don't you love the name?! I am glad my review makes you interested in the book. People should read this book, and Eleni too. Don't forget Eleni. I gave that five stars.


message 13: by Gundula (new) - added it

Gundula Sounds like a book that (like for you) also to a point reflects my own experiences of moving to a new country and culture (I don't know about you, but when my family moved to Canada from Germany when I was ten, the fact that there could be cultural shock, in addition to learning a new language, never really occurred to many because both Canada and Germany were considered first world nations).


message 14: by Chrissie (last edited May 05, 2012 04:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie I could choose. I was almost 19 years old. I went because I was enthralled about learning about a new country. I arranged so that I could go back to my studies at Brown University if I wanted to, but I never did. The protagonist in the book was my age. And then she got married, like I did. The Greeks and the Swedes are about as different as you can get, but still her experiences were very similar to mine.

Gundula, thank you for liking my review. I think we share a lot. Maybe b/c we think similarly you understand what I am trying to express.


message 15: by HuhWhat (new)

HuhWhat Chrissie wrote: "Simran, moving is both challenging and enriching. I find Greek 1900 history fascinating. The chapters alternate between those told by the English woman and her husband's mother - Antigone. Don't yo..."

I added Eleni to the list when you recommended it way back :) Now, I just have to wait for that right moment to read it.

It is a pretty cool name. Like its out of the Matrix or something...


message 17: by Gundula (new) - added it

Gundula Chrissie wrote: "I could choose. I was almost 19 years old. I went because I was enthralled about learning about a new country. I arranged so that I could go back to my studies at Brown University if I wanted to, b..."

Definitely :-) Great minds think alike!!

I was ten when we immigrated (and I did not want to immigrate at the time, I was scared and knew that I was going to be missing friends, family etc.). I would not want to go back and live in Germany, but at age ten I resented having to immigrate and I resented even more the fact that I had no say in the matter (I know I was "just a child" but still).


message 18: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Simran wrote: "Chrissie wrote: "Simran, moving is both challenging and enriching. I find Greek 1900 history fascinating. The chapters alternate between those told by the English woman and her husband's mother - A..."



Eleni is good. I read it years ago. I can't find it on my bookshelf, so I wonder where it went.


Chrissie Sylvia, I really enjoyed Eleni! I think having read that first improved this book since I knew the history.

Gundula, my younger brother felt as you did when we moved to Sweden. He had no choice in the matter. Our parents, their generation, discussed much less with their children than parents do today. I would have definitely discussed such a move with our kids, not to say that they would necessarily decide...... I would try to find a compromise. For me it would be important that all in the family thought this was a positive move. I have moved many times. I have always seen it as fun and challenging, an opportunity that cannot be missed. I think the mood of my parents rubbed off on me.


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