Long-listed for the 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, Eve Makis’ fourth novel is a story of family, past and present, and the human cost of war.
‘Now, I see that every relic, however battered, every scratch on every knick-knack, is engraved with a timeless story of someone’s life’
Alternating between the voices of Katerina in 1985 and her grandmother Mariam from 1915 we are introduced to a family with a troubled past. Katerina inherits a spice box from her grandmother, containing letters, written in Armenian, and a diary. A restless Katerina embarks on a journey to find out more about her grandmother’s story and with the help of a translator she meets on her travels we begin to uncover their family’s history.
This novel brought my attention to a subject I knew very little about. The tragic massacre of Armenian people during the war, and the consequences it had for those left behind. There are certainly some harrowing moments here, as we see the true horror of the mental and physical trauma that was inflicted upon innocent people. However, whilst the subject matter is upsetting I didn’t find the writing gratuitous in any way and the prose was simple yet effective.
‘Did other girls lie awake at night gripped by fear and dread? Did sleep bring vivid nightmares that haunted them throughout the day? Was life, on the other side, blighted by war?’
Whilst the tragedy was a major theme in the novel there are lighter moments of hope and humour. Gabriel in particular I thought to be a wonderful character whose humorous exchanges with his family made me smile! There is also a sense of family solidarity and hope throughout. The hope that miracles can happen, and that loved ones can be reunited again, against the odds. It highlights the importance of love and relationships and bonds that can last a lifetime. For Katerina, there is the determination to discover the past whilst working towards her own future, and finding her own place in life.
I enjoyed reading The Spice Box Letters. This is both a moving and uplifting story of love, loss, family and memories that will have wide appeal.