Arrested Song, Irena Karafilly’s haunting new novel is the intimate story of a true 20th century heroine set against the backdrop of the Nazi occupation in Greece, the Greek civil war and an oppressive dictatorship. It is very much Calliope Adham’s story, a woman that follows her instinct and goes against the social norms of Greek island life, a ‘cynic when it comes to marriage‘ and quips that it is ‘Chocolates and young men‘ that maintains her youthful looks. Yet Arrested Song is also a sweeping, passionate narrative rich in historical detail depicting how war, division and political turmoil ravished a small island community.
Set in a coastal Greek village on the island of Lesbos, the novel opens in 1941, just as Hitler’s army invades Greece. Calliope is a schoolmistress in her 20s dedicated to her pupils. Although regarded as a great beauty, she is often gossiped about, accused of being barren after four years of marriage with no children. As her husband has gone missing fighting in the war and is presumed dead, Calliope is classed as a widow. As the marriage was an unhappy one with Calliope only reluctantly agreeing to it, she doesn’t really mourn her husband. Calliope is often viewed as being headstrong and selfish, but she is misunderstood and well ahead of the times she lives in.
Being able to speak German and French, Calliope is recruited to act as the liaison officer by the occupying Germans. She has to work closely with Lieutenant Lorenz Umbreit, the Wehrmacht commander who she wants to hate. Yet instead she discovers Umbreit to be intelligent, sensitive and compassionate. An unlikely bond develops between the two. The intimate friendship with the German results in Calliope suffering great personal conflict, especially as she is an active member of the Greek resistance.
As the villagers suffer more and more under the occupation, suspicion and resentment intensifies, with devastating consequences. Yet as World War 2 ends with Umbreit returning to Germany, Calliope and Umbreit manage keep hold of their precious bond. Umbreit seems to offer Calliope a serene calmness as Greece is torn apart by civil war and then oppressed by a military dictatorship.
Arrested Song is also a powerful portrait of female empowerment that spans decades. As well as defying the gossips, taking lovers and refusing to marry, Calliope defies old island traditions and emerges as a true champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
This is a novel that completely consumed me. As you know I love my historical fiction and Arrested Song is so rich in historic detail. There are a lot of characters featured and I have to admit I found this confusing, even near the end. But I feel that Irena Karafilly was so dedicated to communicating the turbulent history of Greece and how it affected everyday people living in a small, traditional community that I understand why these characters and their own stories are featured.
Thank you to Olivia Le Maistre from Legend Press for inviting me to the blog tour of Arrested Song. This is a novel that will stay with me.
To follow the blog tour, please see below.
Arrested Song is published on 28 March 2023.