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The Book of Summers
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Beth Lowe has been sent a parcel. Inside is a letter informing her that her long-estranged mother has died, and a scrapbook Beth has never seen before. Entitled The Book of Summers, it's stuffed with photographs and mementos complied by her mother to record the seven glorious childhood summers Beth spent in rural Hungary. It was a time when she trod the tightrope between separated parents and two very different countries; her bewitching but imperfect Hungarian mother and her gentle, reticent English father; the dazzling house of a Hungarian artist and an empty-feeling cottage in deepest Devon. And it was a time that came to the most brutal of ends the year Beth turned sixteen. Since then, Beth hasn't allowed herself to think about those years of her childhood. But the arrival of The Book of Summers brings the past tumbling back into the present; as vivid, painful and vital as ever.
A book with moments as gentle and warm and languorous as its title, but with powerful running tensions, too.
The summers in question are glorious Hungarian ones; brief but intense interludes in the childhood of a little girl, Beth Lowe.
Beth’s mother, Marika, is Hungarian; her father, David, is English. Marika longs to return to her homeland. One summer, friends in a remote rural part of Hungary invite the family to stay. Marika is beside herself with excitement.
The holiday ends in heartbreak for Beth and her father. Marika refuses point blank to return with them to Devon. ‘I’m sorry’ she tells her nine-year old child. ‘Daddy and I don’t fit any more... but here, I fit...’
A devastated David and Beth make their lonely way back to England and try to carry on with their lives. Marika stays in touch with her daughter by phone and insists she be allowed to join her in Hungary every summer.
It is the start of the 1990s but the backwater where Marika has settled is preserved in a much earlier time. Emylia Hall’s descriptions of rural, backwater Hungary speaks of a rustic simplicity that has long vanished from our own countryside. And the Hungarian summers are as important as the scenery to the story’s vivid backdrop: all shimmering heat, dust and brilliant white light by day, warm and glowing with fireflies and stars by night.
This is a story about growing up, and coming to terms with realities over which one has no control. It is a delicate, atmospheric, regretful tale but full of redemption too. I absolutely loved it.
This is a book within a book. A now grown-up Beth receives a package. Inside is a letter informing her that her mother has died, and enclosed with it is a home-made scrapbook Beth never knew existed.
Her mother entitled it ‘The Book of Summers’ and to Beth’s astonishment, it is full of photographs, mementos and notes Marika compiled every summer her daughter came to Hungary. It starts when Beth was ten and first re-united with her mother, and finishes seven years later when she was sixteen. After that the pages are blank. No more memories. No more summers.
What happened to so totally estrange Beth from Marika? Why does Beth have issues with her own father, who brought her up alone and always did his best for her? Why does Hungary, which over seven summers Beth came to love, even planning to move there permanently, now represent so much heartache and pain?
Slowly, almost fearfully, she begins to revisit her past – all of their pasts - by turning the book’s pages. She remembers Tamas, the boy she fell in love with. Zoltan, her mother’s artist lover. Villa Serena, the couple’s beautiful, remote house standing at the foot of wooded mountains with sprawling fields before it and a magical forest pool nearby for swimming on the scorching summer days.
A lovely story of a mother’s love and shattered dreams. And the power of simple photographs and forgotten trinkets to mend broken hearts.
Download A Sample Chapter for 'The Book of Summers' (.PDF Format)
Your father is English and your mother Hungarian. How much
of The Book Of Summers is biography/autobiography?Our family holidays to Hungary inspired the initial idea for the
novel. I have such treasured memories of those summers, and
through writing I was able to possess them all over again. The
process was like a form of time travel, only better, for I was
creating something new from something old. The characters of
Marika and David are much exaggerated versions of my parents
– the fiery Hungarian and the mild Englishman – and it was this
dynamic that first sewed the seed for the novel. But as to the
drama, the heartbreak, the unbridgeable rifts – I’m happy to
report that these are pure fiction.What are your general thoughts on the importance of motherdaughter
relationships?I felt a great affinity as I wrote the sections of the novel where
Beth muses on the similarities between herself and Marika,
because I love the ways in which my mother and I are alike. We
share a similar gusto, a willingness to laugh and cry easily, we’re
enthusiastic talkers and eaters, and are both easily delighted. But I’m also conscious of the ways in which we’re different – the
things that my father and I have in common instead, or that are
mine and mine alone. I think we’re always a mixture of the
personalities of our parents – even if some of that mix is a result
of consciously trying to be different. I’m extremely lucky in that
I have nothing but warm memories of childhood. I hope that if
one day I become a parent I’ll differ from mine in as few ways
as possible.How important have photographic memories been in your own
life experience?As soon as we started travelling abroad as a family, every
summer from the age of nine, my dad would put together
albums, documenting the details of our trips – another inspiration
point for my novel. I delight in revisiting these books.
They’re filled with pictures of me grinning roguishly, boyish in
lopsided dungarees with a mouth full of braces; my older sister
angelic with faraway eyes; my mum in a succession of billowing
flowery dresses, usually scowling because she hated having her
picture taken; my dad posing in startlingly yellow swim shorts or
grinning over the rim of a beer. Within those pages there are
laughs a plenty. Now and again however, I’ll find a picture that
stops me in my tracks because it’s the most perfect snatch of
time. There’s a beautiful melancholy in such moments, because
for all their seeming tangibility we can never relive them. I’ve
tried to document my own significant trips with the same alacrity
as my dad, from snow seasons in the French Alps to my runaway
wedding in Las Vegas. I’m always in search of the perfect picture
that encapsulates everything about a certain time . . . but for an
amateur photographer like myself I find that’s more easily and
satisfyingly achieved with the written word.This is a remarkable debut work. What are you going to follow
it with?My second novel is set in the Swiss Riviera, and follows a British
undergraduate as she makes her way among a crowd of ex-pats
and international students. I’m really enjoying painting a
portrait of a city I’ve spent time in, Lausanne, and capturing the
sensation of being young and abroad, and wanting to fall in
love more than anything else. A time when everything seems
perfect, and then the fall-out, when we discover that it’s not. It
will be more of a love story, but with a slightly darker heart.
- Author Q & A - Reading Group Questions - Travelling with a book
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Title: The Book of Summers
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Publication Date: 24/05/2012
ISBN 10: 0755390857
Imprint: Headline Review
ISBN 13: 9780755390854
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Emylia Hall was born in 1978 and grew up in the Devon countryside, the daughter of an English artist and a Hungarian quilt-maker. After studying at York University and in Lausanne, Switzerland, Emylia spent five years working in a London ad agency, before moving to the French Alps. It was there that she began to write. Emylia now lives in Bristol with her husband, also an author. THE BOOK OF SUMMERS her first novel, and is inspired by evocative memories of childhood holidays spent in rural Hungary.
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