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A tale of betrayal, forgiveness, and passion

The Long Shadow - Loretta Proctor

The Long Shadow, by Loretta Proctor, is the forerunner to Dying Phoenix. I read them in reverse order, but this didn't affect my enjoyment of either book. They can be read quite separately. The Long Shadow spans a considerable period of time, from the middle of the First World War until the late 1940s. It largely describes the lives of a mother and son, Dorothy and Andrew, caught between lives in England and Greece. The very different environments - of land, culture, community, and family - are excellently captured by Loretta's writing.

For all the social changes in Britain brought about by two world wars, a countryside house in the Cotswolds serves as an emblem - it is a haven of peace and sanctuary. It provides some glimpse of pastoral peace. The Greek landscapes, on the other hand, from urban Athens and Thessaloniki through to the remote rural villages of Macedonia, are in constant flux, repeatedly scarred by external invasion and internal feud. The picture of northern Greece at the end of the book is quite different from that at the start, after it has been touched by war, fire, land clearance, rivalry, and modernisation. It is a harsh time and place to live, but occasionally, and unexpectedly, it provides vistas of grandeur and beauty. It sways between hostility and brotherhood - but always with a profound and unpredictable passion.

The Long Shadow also captures, in bold manner, the highs and lows of having mixed-culture ancestry. Andrew can never decide whether he is British or Greek in his soul, and for much of the book he oscillates between them as he tries to find his own identity. His betrayal, in turn, of each of his parents has a terrible symmetry and inevitability. But it also has an entirely fitting asymmetry, matching the cultural background of each parent. The book pursues multiple overlapping arcs of betrayal and reconciliation, estrangement and forgiveness - some of these arcs can be closed, and others remain forever open and unresolved. Truly, living with a cross-cultural heritage can be fraught with difficulty and confusion.

Occasionally I come across people who say they can judge a book after reading only the first few pages. In the case of this book they would have missed a rare treat, since the book builds steadily from a gradual start towards a series of emotional and relational high points. It's long - nearly 500 pages in paperback - but well worth it.

In summary, I really enjoyed The Long Shadow, and recommend it to others.