Zyranna Zateli’s meandering collection of tales, At Twilight They Return (translated by David Connolly), reminds me of sitting down with an elderly relative. Bits are fascinating. Others seem like tangents until the storyteller gets back to their original point. Yet more parts are shocking, tragic, or both. At Twilight They Return tells ten stories about various members of the Christoforos clan at the end of the nineteenth century.
The sprawling family lives in a smallish town (unnamed) in northern Greece. We learn that they’re well-off, own numerous commercial enterprises and have tenant farmers and shepherds. Their chief characteristic, however, is marrying, having children, and, if their spouses die, repeatedly remarrying to have yet more children. Christoforos, the patriarch, has three wives over the course of his life. I lost count entirely of his children, step-children, and adopted children. One of his sons manages to have six children by six different women before his siblings browbeat him into getting married so that someone else has to take care of all those kids.
There is simply too much plot in At Twilight They Return to adequately summarize in a review like this. The best I can do is to say that this book draws a rough arc from the height of the family’s fortunes to a slow decline after an earthquake destroys their inn. The earthquake, as near as I can tell, takes place around 1899. After that, sickness, accidents, and mental illness start to prune the outrageously complex family tree.
I could tell from the very first tale that At Twilight They Return is not going to be for everyone. I’ll admit that I started skimming once I hit the two-thirds point. I was genuinely entertained by parts of this book, but there was so much plot and so many characters to slog through. Readers who enjoy wandering tales that slowly circle around major events and eventually get back to their original plot will adore this book. Readers who want things laid out more linearly will be frustrated.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 25 October 2016.