Book Reviews

Affair of the Heart by Dilys Powell


What Da Cover Says:  Dilys Powell’s love affair with Greece and the Greeks began on a sun-baked archaeological dig in 1931. Joining her husband the archaeologist Humfry Payne on the remote peninsula of Perachora, she came to know the villagers who laboured on the site, camping beside  them year after year, for months at a time.

Despite personal tragedy, the occupation of Greece and civil war, Powell’s affair of the heart continued. She returned time and again through the ’40s and ’50s, and with each visit there was a reconciliation with her idyllic memories of the country. Both with Humfry and without, she explored remote mountains in the company of shepherds, isolated stretches of coast and island with local fishermen and olive-dotted hillsides with the subsistence farmers who worked them. Out of this she has fashioned a gem of a travel book.

What I Says:  Dilys Powell was one hell of a woman, way ahead of her time in some aspects, it is not often you would find a woman travelling on her own in the 1940/50’s, especially in a country that was very male oriented.  She handles herself well, she doesn’t shy away from any experience…she doesn’t get too fazed with how often she gets lost.  She started her love affair with Greece in the 1930’s when she joined her husband on archaeology digs and it must have taken a huge amount of character to go back after his sudden death.

I have to admit I found this book a little tough to get into, the first 50 pages are brief memoirs of early visits, the villagers get mentioned in a way that implies you should know them already, but when she goes back for her first proper visit after WWII things improve big time.  She travels a lot of the time by foot, meeting a lot of locals, her main purpose for being there is to find out how the Greeks are recovering from WWII and the civil war they had immediately afterwards.  One thing that stands out about the Greeks was how hospitable they were, always offering a free drink, food, lift or a roof to sleep under.  Another visit was to document one of the first instances of aquatic archaeology using a new fangled invention….the aqualung.  She shows just how independent she was by giving one of these a go without any training and nearly killing herself, this didn’t put her off from trying again later.

There is one underpinning feeling the reader gets throughout these travels and that is grief, revisiting these places she spent so much time with her husband brings back a lot of memories.  When she visits his grave for the first time in a couple of decades you really can feel her pain in the words.

Yet another fine release from Eland Publishing, part memoir and part history book this was a fascinating read.


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