I received an ARC of The Spice Box Letters through Netgalley and the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, in exchange for an honest review.
Katerina longs to know why her late grandmother, Miriam, refused to talk about the past, especially when she inherits a journal and handwritten letters stashed in a wooden spice box, cryptic treasures written in Armenian, Miriam’s mother tongue.
On vacation in Cyprus, Katerina finds the key to unlocking her grandmother’s secrets and discovers a family legacy of exile and loss. Aged seven, Miriam was expelled from her home in Eastern Turkey and witnessed the death of her beloved brother Gabriel, or so she believed.
Katerina sets out on a fact-finding mission across the island and solves a mystery that changes her life and lays the ghosts of her grandmother’s turbulent past to rest. My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Sarah’s Key in this gripping family saga, set during the tragic start of the Armenian genocide in 1915 Turkey, spanning the ups and downs of a family separated by the devastating aftermath in 1985 Greece.
I knew absolutely nothing about the Armenian genocide, and I didn’t know a lot about Armenian history before reading The Spice Box Letters, but this was nothing short of compelling.
Our story is told mostly by Katerina in 1985. Her grandmother, Mariam died a month before Katerina finds a pile of letters and a journal in Miriam’s native language of Armenian, hidden in a hand-painted box with a slightly erotic scene on the lid.
Miriam had never taught her daughter or granddaughter about a lot of her early life, or her recipes for the meals that she was famous for, so they go through a cookbook and try to bring themselves through their grief by cooking. They also try to learn more about Miriam by having her journal and letters translated, but they have trouble finding a translator, until Katerina takes a much-needed vacation. She meets a man named Ara through a mutual friend, who happens to be part of a large, involved Armenian family and agrees to help her with the translation, which brings us to the true beginning of our story.
This story was beautiful, and the sense of family that learning Miriam’s life story brought to all of the characters. I really don’t want to say a lot because so much of this story unfolds piece by piece, but the other family member that Katerina learns about was a very interesting character, and I really enjoyed him. I didn’t love the romance in this book, but it still felt like something that could really happen, so I’ll accept it.
Overall, this book gave me a lot of warm, family fuzzies, and made me miss my grandmother quite a bit. I also would definitely look into some of Makis’s other books. I’m giving this five stars, because I’ll definitely be recommending it to others.
Eve Makis studied at Leicester University and worked as a journalist and radio presenter in the UK and Cyprus before becoming a novelist. She is the author of four novels. Her first book Eat, Drink and be Married was published in five languages and awarded the Young Booksellers International Book of the Year Award. A screen adaptation of her third book, Land of the Golden Apple, is being filmed in June 2015. Eve is a part time tutor in creative writing at Nottingham University.The Spice Box Letters is currently available in English and Greek and has been long listed for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2015.