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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Mauve Umbrella (The)
by Alki Zei
Age Range: 12+
Nearly ten-year-old Eleftheria lives in Marousi, a suburb of Athens, with her parents and younger identical twin brothers Noulis and Sakis. Their father is strict; Eleftheria loves to read and to play but he believes “girls should look forward to becoming good housekeepers and getting married. ”
It is the story of two worlds: one, the carefree existence of the children as they let their imagination soar on those hot summer afternoons while their parents have a siesta. This is when they can play games and escape to the garden by climbing down the large cherry tree outside their window. The other, is of the adult world of the Second World War which is moving ever closer. Set in 1940, Greece has a Dictatorship but is, as yet, untouched by the chaos, horror of the German Occupation.
Alki Zei is one of Greece’s most popular children’s writers and she has created a warm, funny and nostalgic story of childhood. The Mauve Umbrella, belonging to the grandmother of Eleftheria’s best friend Veeto, becomes a symbol of the children’s imaginary games. The pages are permeated with humour and the characters are memorable: from the loveable Uncle Miltos, who hovers between success and disaster, Eleftheria’s subdued mother, who would love to be more carefree but for her severe husband. Mr Marcel, a French teacher who lives in the apartment above and is always glued to the radio, listening to foreign broadcasts and worrying about his sister and her husband in France. His nephew Benoit, who comes to live with him when the Nazis take over Paris and his parents join the resistance.
The Mauve Umbrella was written in 1995 and this is the first English translation of Zei’s delightful novel. Translated and self-published by Ian Barnes, it has allowed a whole new audience to discover this remarkable writer. As Barnes explains in the Translator’s note he has tried to keep as close to the original style of the author which sometimes has meant that sentences are quite long especially in some of the dialogue. There are also notes at the back of the book which gives some further detail.
Other titles by Zei reviewed on the website are: Wildcat Under Glass (1967), Petros’ War (1972) and Tina’s Web (2007).