Book Review: The Captive Sun by Irena Karafilly

I’m doing something a little different for this review. I’ve teamed up with Marg from The Intrepid Reader and we’ve created a discussion style post to discuss our thoughts on The Captive Sun. Stop by Marg’s blog to read the second half of our chat once you’ve read the first part here.

 The Captive Sun by Irena Karafilly


Review copy provided by publisher

Picador (Pan Macmillan), December 2012

 Synopsis- Calliope Adham – young, strong-willed, and recently widowed – is schoolmistress in the village of Molyvos when Hitler’s army invades Greece in 1941. Well read and linguistically gifted, she is promptly recruited by the Germans, who force her to act as their liaison officer. It is the beginning of a personal and national saga that will last well over thirty years.
Calliope’s wartime duties bring her into close contact with Lieutenant Lorenz Umbreit, the Wehrmacht officer in command of her village. Their improbable friendship blossoms despite Calliope’s clandestine work for the Resistance, in a fishing village seething with dread and suspicion.
Amid privation and death, the villagers’ hostility finally erupts, but the bond between Calliope Adham and Lorenz Umbreit survives the Occupation, taking unforeseeable turns. Their complex, defiant relationship continues through several tumultuous decades, as Greece is ravaged by civil war, oppressed by military dictatorship, and finally liberated in the mid 1970s.
A bestseller in Greece, The Captive Sun is a haunting, sumptuous novel, weaving the private and the historic into a vivid tapestry of Greek island life. At once informative and spellbinding, it chronicles the story of an extraordinary woman and her lifelong struggle against social and political tyranny.

Joint Book Discussion

Marg: The Captive Sun opens just before the outbreak of WWII and explores the Nazi invasion of the island of Lesbos and in particular the village of Molyvos through to the civil war which followed pretty much straight afterwards and then military dictatorships through to the 1970s. The timeframe is quite long, but the author makes it more manageable by focussing on the life of one woman – Calliope Adhams – her loves, her motivations and her impact.

Did you know a lot about the Greek history that was covered in the book or was a lot of it new to you?

Lauren: To be honest, I didn’t have much idea at all about Greek history. What I found fascinating about this story is it’s setting on a Greek island and how secluded the village was and at times oblivious to the atrocities occurring on their homeland.

Calliope is an independent and educated woman who is enlisted by the Germans as a translator during the invasion. This placed Calliope as an intermediary between the locals and the invaders, a role she seemed to find rewarding and at times a struggle. It was an unusual role for a woman to undertake in a very traditional community. What qualities do you think Calliope brought to her role as a translator?

Marg: Over the last couple of years I have read a couple of books set in Greece so I was aware of the Nazi occupation and the civil war but not so much of the later events..

What I think sets Calliope apart from other female characters is her independence and her education. Even Calliope’s parents recognised that the daughter they had raised was not your normal Greek girl of the period who was basically perceived as not being worthy of an education, because their primary function was to get married and have children. Being the daughter of a the schoolmaster and then being a teacher herself gave Calliope opportunities to learn new languages.

Whilst Calliope was a very valued member of the community, the fact that she wasn’t typical had the effect of making her separate and I think that this worked both to her advantage and her disadvantage in her role, but also in the other activities that she undertook during the war years.

Lauren: Calliope’s father really valued education and I think this was heavily instilled in Calliope. She valued herself with more to offer to the world than being just a wife and mother. She had her own mind and her independence was fiercely important to her.

Marg: One of the strongest relationships in the book was with the Lorenz Umbreit, the German officer that she was employed to translate for most of the time. How did you find this relationship?

Lauren: Oh, I found their relationship both fascinating and frustrating! They developed a connection despite the war, despite their differing languages and nationalities and jobs… but the timing just never seemed right! I was relieved when their friendship tentatively stepped over the line into something more intimate… but the consequences and the backlash from her people when their affair was discovered really grounded them in reality of the risk they were taking to be together. I think Lorenz really loved Calliope and I wondered what would have happened if they had just waited a little longer until after war as he had hinted. Gosh the years that passed, but they remained in each other’s thoughts. The romance reader in me yearned for a happily-ever-after for this couple, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. I actually had to re-read the last couple of pages because I couldn’t believe it.

Marg: One thing that this aspect of the story did have me wondering about is those relationships where young women from occupied countries fell deeply in love with German soldiers. I have read stories of where Australian women went back to England to be with the soldiers they met, or American soldiers came here for example, but I don’t think I have ever read a book where a woman moved to Germany after the war. Maybe it just didn’t happen. Maybe the power of love is not strong enough to deal with that kind of hurdle? It was a thought that kept me pondering for a long time while I was reading this book, mainly because that was the kind of direction I expected the story to go in, with either Lorenz coming back to Greece or Calliope moving to be with him, even maybe to a third country.

Lauren: That’s a good point Marg. I too thought that Lorenz would return to Greece as he was so fascinated by and admired the country.

To read part two of the discussion, click over to Marg’s blog @ The Intrepid Reader.

Overall Rating


“I loved this book!”

The Captive Sun can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers


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