The Spice Box Letters

Written by Eve Makis
Review by Beth Turza

This story follows a young journalist’s search for her grandmother’s mysterious youth in Cyprus during World War I. After her grandmother Miriam’s passing, Katarina and her mother discover an old, hand-carved wooden spice box containing a diary and letters, all written by Miriam in her native Armenian. Katarina knows that a family tragedy occurred, but no relatives from that time seemed to have survived.  The only way to discover the answer would be to return to Cyprus on holiday and see if she can get the letters translated.

Meanwhile, an elderly Gabriel, Miriam’s brother, struggles with his age and health while recalling memories of losing his family during the dark days of 1915, when families were separated and children murdered. What unfolds are different stories of a turbulent time, narrated through chapters set in 1915 about Gabriel, and in 1985, about Miriam, as translated by a young man Katarina gets to know in Cyprus. It’s a very interesting novel of loss and rediscovery as well as the history of human struggle.

Reading multi-period narratives from three different points of view can get confusing, but the story stays on track and flows smoothly between time periods and the main characters. Although the work is fiction, the incidents depicted were based in history, and it is important for us to remember those who experienced these war crimes. The novel helps us understand how healing can occur and how survivors can lead a full and long life, and it also leaves readers with a satisfying ending. A very good read.