Tuesday 10 December 2019

Shadows of Olive Trees

Shadows of Olive Trees by Susanne Gervay PB RRP $24.99 ISBN

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Originally published in 1996, this young adult novel has proved very popular, especially with teenage girls. Set in the mid-1970's in the inner suburb of Sydney, it focuses on the emerging women’s movements as well as on the passions of young women searching for adult identity.

Tessa Kassis, aged eighteen, lives with her Greek migrant parents and younger brother. Confined by the cultural restrictions of her parents, she is trying to live the life of an Australian teenager while keeping her parents’ love and maintaining some Greek traditions. She befriends Athena and Jenny, two young women who join her in searching for independence and identity.

The author Gervay is the daughter of Hungarian refugees who migrated to Australia hoping to rebuild their lives and to be accepted in their new country while trying to maintain their own culture, so she has experienced Tessa’s dilemmas. Like her book hero Tessa, she also developed a passion for women’s rights at a time of the emerging women’s movement.

While Tessa has a dutiful respect for the cultural festivals and religious customs of her family, she faces a dilemma in wanting to live an Australian life. This dilemma causes drama, for example when she disagrees with her controlling but loving father who insists she has a chaperone such as on a university geography excursion. And, too, he insists on finding a Greek husband for her, but she rejects this as she has fallen in love with her professor, David.

There are numerous issues which Gervay tackles, not just cultural conflict, but also the importance of female friendships and sexual issues. Against a background of family traditions and restrictions, she explores Tessa’s growing awareness of her sensuality and her enjoyment of learning.

Shadows of Olive Trees is ideal for adaptation to film as it would educate and entertain a new generation of readers. It is a story of women's empowerment that has relevance today for women and men.

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