Thursday, July 26: This morning I finish reading Cafe Tempest: Adventures on a Small Greek Island, a “fictional memoir” by Barbara Bonfigli. I have to say I am relieved to reach the end.
In the story, Sarah, the main character, and her friend Alex travel to the Greek island of Pharos. Sarah is a thirty-something American theatrical producer who lives in London and who just broke up with her boyfriend. Sarah also practices yoga and is writing a magazine article about mantras. Her friend Alex, a girl, happens to be another of Sarah’s ex-lovers. While in Pharos, the local doctor Theo asks Sarah if she will help produce the island’s summer play. Sarah impetuously agrees and chooses Shakespeare’s The Tempest. She proceeds to line up characters from the island’s inhabitants: including a taxi driver Caliban and a postmaster Prospero.
I’m on a quest to read as many books about Greece as possible to get a feel for the country before I visit there in September. Though I do get a great feel for the small island of Pharos, where the novel takes place, and for the characters that inhabit this island, I don’t enjoy Bonfigli’s writing style. It seems disjointed; the action and conversations seem to bounce around like a misshapen rubber ball. Also, the author tosses in so many Greek phrases and words that I find the story hard to follow. Maybe if I hadn’t been reading the Kindle version, I would have realized there is a glossary at the back. I come to it too late for it to have been any help.
Often the story seems like an inside joke from which I am excluded. Half the time, I have to reread parts to figure out what is going on. There seems a forced cleverness to every conversation; the main character Sarah is too busy trying to be witty to establish real connections with people. I find this annoying.
I find I like Sarah best when she is being reflective and meditative. Some of her words of wisdom are “If your ex-lovers don’t become your friends, you’re dancing on a dark stage.” I like this idea that love has a capacity to expand and reinvent itself.
She says another time: “Life on Pharos is intoxicating in its simplicity.” I like the idea of travel as a way to escape into an intoxicating and simple parallel reality. I don’t want to be the same person I always am when I am traveling. I want to escape, to just be. Sarah’s meditations and mantras appeal to me for this reason. “Ham Sa” or “I am That,” suggest an interconnectedness with the universe. I am drawn to this feeling.
Finally, Sarah falls in love with Monika, who has only ever been involved with men. She tells Monika: “You love who you love. My heart doesn’t notice anything else. It only knows that it’s happy.” Monika, who is not sure yet about getting involved with a woman, replies, “And your brain doesn’t interfere?” Shortly after that, Monika disappears for a few days as she tries to process her feelings for another woman. Sarah is much more open and sees men as only “fifty percent of [her] hunting grounds.” The book explores labels that freeze people’s imaginations and inhibit their ability to discover who they are.
There are definitely interesting and thought-provoking ideas in this book; the problem is that when the characters light on these ideas, they too quickly skitter off in every direction, like fiddler crabs on a sandy beach.