Cyprus in the run up to the civil war of the 1970s… the threat of it hangs in the atmosphere like a fine mist. A terrible thing, war. Against this backdrop of war and violence, the island’s inhabitants make the best they can of their lives, building friendships, falling in love, having children, watching people die, making mistakes.
Maria Petrakis, however, flees a brutal marriage on the island where she has always lived for London and a new start. She opens a bakery on Green Lanes in Harringay – the centre of the small Greek Cypriot community whose residents have settled there to escape the war and start again. Here she comes into her own as she heals and atones through the kneading of bread and the selling of shamali cakes and cinnamon pastries to her customers.
There are glimpses of the lives of her neighbours, friends and customers as they buy their bread and cakes. There’s Mrs Koutsouli, whose heart was broken when her handsome son married a xeni, an English woman with fish-eyes and yellow hair. There’s Mrs Pantelis, driven half-mad with the grief of losing her son, Nico, in the war. And there’s Mrs Vasili who claims to be related to Nana Mouskouri and grows her hair upwards so she can feel closer to God. Finally, there’s Elena, Maria Petrakis’ daughter-in-law, who has been suffering with the blackness since having a baby, and whom nobody knows quite how to help.
The Making Of Mrs Petrakis is a story about the limited choices women sometimes find themselves confronting. It’s a story about repression and mental illness and the devastation it can wreak on lives. But above all, it is a story of motherhood and love and of healing through the humble act of baking.
The Making of Mrs Petrakis is a beautifully written and descriptive novel with an unforgettable main character. Maria Petrakis moves to London from Cyprus in the 1960s and sets up a Cypriot bakery serving the local community. The book follows her and her family across multiple timelines, relationships and struggles. She is a typical woman of her generation and after deciding on a bride for her son Costa, she becomes involved in family relationships that battle on against the backdrop of the civil war in Cyprus.
This is an evocative and eye opening book covering some very emotive issues. Domestic violence, depression and the difficulties of children and motherhood all coming to deliver a novel that is an intelligent and insightful experience; a love letter to the island of Cyprus and the Cypriot people and their personal struggles before during and after the war. The descriptions of the bakery and the treats within were mouth watering making this a deliciously sweet, memorable celebration of cultural heritage.