“Anticipation” often implies hopeful expectation but here refers to the Huntington’s disease (HD) gene, discernible in one generation, anticipated in the next. Recently widowed Helen Adler, a cellular biologist researching the gene, is stumbling through single parenthood when her young son asks to go to Greece. A bright boy with educational challenges, Alexander may not write, but he re-enacts Greek myths using his socks and can relate the history of Troy and Sparta with ease. He’s a truly endearing participant in this novel.
Modern-day tour guide for the ancient site of Mystras, Elias is keeper of the stones, born in 1237, dedicated to the Prophet Elijah but stalked across centuries by the Frankish Lusignans who carry the HD gene and believe Elias’s Romaioi (part-French, part-Greek) blood can cure them.
The first thirty pages suffer from the lack of a map to orient the geography of Byzantine Greece, but after some online searching, I was hooked. Impeccably researched and memorably blending history with fantasy, Winawer’s narrative is persuasive. The prose is beautifully shaped, convincing in its study of reincarnation and crash-course history of occupied Greece, learned through Elias’s lives. The author touches briefly on the 1981 EU entry―Greece again under tight-fisted European control―the irony not lost on Elias! And 2015 is the modern-day setting, not accidentally the year of the bailout referendum.
Throughout the novel, we meet fascinating characters and are immersed in Greek culture―mannerism, food, dress, both modern and medieval―and its centuries of bloody, racially discriminatory domination. Helen and Elias narrate their stories in first person, the others in third, which works well to keep readers grounded in time and place, while the flow―past-present-past―is seamless. If the greatest praise comes by seeking out an author’s previous books, then I’m off to find a copy of The Scribe of Siena.