Tamar Hodes’ The Water and the Wine is a biographical novel about artists living on Hydra in the 1960s, including the late Leonard Cohen. Read our review.
Meet Author Tamar Hodes
Born in Israel to South African parents, Tamar Hodes and her family moved to Hydra in 1964. She explained.
“My parents, who had met on a kibbutz in Israel, heard there was an artistic community living on Hydra. My father had a commission to write a book about the Middle East and my mother wanted to focus on her painting, so we lived on Hydra from Spring 1964 to Spring 1965.”
Tamar added that the artistic community consisted of Leonard Cohen and others who were working on art and music, and then met in the taverna in the evenings to share ideas.
“Then there were the Greek locals who ran the shops, the tavernas, those who worked as maids, and did jobs for others. There were also some very wealthy people there such as the painter Ghikas, and from time to time, Onassis.”
She fell in love with Hydra, and it’s a place that remains close to her heart. By day, Tamar is an English teacher, and recently became a grandmother – a role she relishes.
Her first novel, Raffy’s Shapes, was published in 2006. A collection of short stories called Watercress Wife and Other Stories came out in 2011. She said she’s “always working on a short story,” and her stories have appeared in multiple anthologies. Her novel, The Mauves, was shortlisted for the Wells Literature Festival children’s writing prize. Tamar’s short stories have garnered accolades as well. “The Boating Pond” was longlisted for the Frome prize, and “Letter to the Sea” was a runner-up in Elle magazine’s short story competition. Her “City of Stories” won third prize in the Retreat West Flash Fiction competition. Four more stories will be published soon.
Inspiration for The Water and the Wine
Tamar was just 3 years-old when her family moved to Hydra. Although she doesn’t remember much of those days, her parents spoke of it frequently. Her brother, who was 7 at the time, recalls seeing Cohen singing and playing his guitar around the island. She said that she was fascinated by their stories of how the artists lived and often worked together.
“The gender roles; the relationships between children and parents; the tolerance between the Greek Orthodox locals and the Jewish/Buddhist/non-believing bohemians; the relationships between the domestic workers and the artists; the relationships between the artists and writers themselves; how an environment can affect your work; how one’s emotional state affects your work; how money issues affect creativity. And I wanted to challenge myself to try to capture that zeitgeist, that place and the political backdrop behind it.”
And of course, the Cohen connection made it even more intriguing. She had the idea to write about it for years, but the timing wasn’t quite right.
Then in 2013, her father passed away, leaving her his journal about Hydra. Her mother followed in 2014, leaving her a first edition of Flowers for Hitler signed by Cohen. Cohen and his muse, Marianne Ihlen, died four months apart in 2016.
“All of these events made me feel that the time had come to write this novel. I felt there was a groundswell lifting me there.”
Tamar calls the book “biographical fiction” because the main facts and events in the novel are true. The food, conversations, clothes, and letters are products of her imagination, though she said she tried to retain the essence of the people. A fictionalized version of her family also appears in the story.
About The Water and the Wine
Hydra – the 1960s. A time of free spirits, free love, provocative ideas. Several ex-pats converge on the island best known for inspiring creativity and form a makeshift family. These aren’t ordinary folks. There’s Leonard Cohen; his muse Marianne Ihlen – also muse to her estranged husband Axel Jensen; Charmian Clift; and others. This unusual alliance of authors, painters, and poets seek their own muse, to create, and hopefully gain acclaim for their work.
Tamar imagines the banter, the everyday lives, the relationships between each of the characters, in the process exposing the tortured nature of creatives and the effects on those that love them. You’re transported to the center of the action, where the artists live create, love, and betray, all under the disapproving eyes of the locals. We see just how hard it is to support a “tortured artist” and what many do in the name of their art.
She also points out how without their domestic help they could never have lived and created as they did, with unlimited time to write, party, to live this fantasy, bohemian life. Only the Junta brings them back to reality.
Review of The Water and the Wine
In The Water and the Wine, Tamar Hodes takes on a very difficult task – to create a fictionalized story about real people and events. She skillfully weaves in imaginary conversation, letters, etc., and you begin to forget that this isn’t a biography. She brings this era to life, as if we’re right there, living through it. She creates a picture of an idyllic time, and makes you want to be there. We’re also reminded that Greece herself is a muse, inspiring countless creatives for centuries. Leonard Cohen fans, creatives – and those that love them – and anyone who loves Greece, will enjoy this story. You’ll want to book a trip to Hydra to find your own muse.
By: Tamar Hodes
Publisher: Hookline Books (May 1, 2018)
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