Drama, Historical fiction

Call Me Athena by Colby Cedar Smith

Narrated by Gail Shalan; Hope Newhouse; Ramiz Monsef

As a person who usually prides herself in ‘observing’ things, I was pretty ashamed to find that I had not noticed the fact that this book was a novel in verse. I started listening to the audiobook and had some difficulty following the narrative because of the ‘in verse’ part. Not being used to poetry, this particular version felt a little abrupt. I stopped and gave myself a lot of breaks until I got to the last section of the narrative. By this time, I was heavily invested in the outcome, and I knew where the different timelines converged enough to have a good enough picture in my head of all the events.
We have multiple narrators here, who were all voiced by different people, which helped me remind myself who I was listening to and what they were experiencing at any given time.
The main storyline is in Detroit in the 1930s. We meet a greek family (although the mother is not actually greek herself) whose two girls have an expected trajectory to follow in life. Mary, our lead protagonist, does not want to marry and have a family of her own. At least, she does not want to do it immediately. She wants to finish school, find a job and be financially independent. Her father has other plans. He struggles to reign in the family in the way he sees as the most reasonable way (it is obvious that not everyone else agrees).
The yearning in Mary is quite palpable, and her issues seem simple yet profound. She stumbles on a packet of letters between two unknown people who talk of their own yearning, having been separated by war. Only towards the end do we find out for sure who the pair were (although it might be obvious, I was being cautious to not fall into assumptions). The letters are recited in alternating chapters as the second thread of this story. The final third thread is the direct story of the two people of the letters, their past coming into focus little by little, colouring the picture in.
It was only towards the end that I appreciated the book’s unique format. I might not have liked it as much if I was reading it (as mentioned earlier, it is not a format I am used to reading). The narrators all did a good job, and I would recommend this audiobook to anyone who would like a unique angle on historical fiction.
The author’s note at the end did add a lot more flavour to the book and should not be missed!
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers but the review is based on my own listening experience.


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