SAPPHO SINGS by Peggy Ullman Bell Sunday, Jun 14 2009 

Sappho Sings

Peggy Ullman Bell
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN-10: 1438214316
ISBN-13: 978-1438214313

Sappho Sings. And so does Peggy Ullman Bell in her lyrical, painstakingly researched, emotionally involving novel about the Poetess of Lesbos.

Will Durant in his “Life of Greece” is quoted as saying that Sappho “called herself Psappha, in her soft Aeolian accent” and Psappha is the name by which she is known through this wondrous novel. Because the title uses the more familiar name “Sappho”, that is the name I shall use.

Many people have heard the name of Sappho but not many know who she was, what she did, or what she was famous for. There is, however, a sadly amusing idea in certain quarters that Sappho was “the founder of Lesbians,” to quote someone of my acquaintance. (I didn’t know Lesbians were “founded” but I guess that’s a different issue.) At any rate, she is associated in modern thought with Lesbians (in the sexual sense, that is, not as in “citizens of Lesbos”) and nothing else. Many people don’t even know that the Island of Lesbos, in the Aegean Sea, actually exists and is not some mythic legend like Atlantis. I did actually know it existed, but that’s the extent of what I knew until I read Sappho Sings.

Though Sappho was a prolific writer of poetry only a few original fragments of her work remain in existence, and it is with these fragments that Bell weaves the mesmerizing tale of an accomplished, passionate woman as real and flawed as any woman alive today.

Bell’s vision of Sappho begins with her as a fatherless, feisty teenage girl, small in stature but a lion in spirit, who defies a tyrant and pays for it by being banished from her beloved island home and the adored little brother whose birth took her mother’s life. On the miserable journey from Lesbos to Syracuse, Sappho loses her lifelong friend and betrothed, Alkaios, in a storm. She is rescued and “captured”—at least that’s her view of it—by Kerkolos, a sea-going, wealthy merchant, who takes her to his home in Syracuse.

He treats her with utmost respect that eventually calms her fears of becoming a slave or concubine, and his gentle ways, so at odds with his appearance, win her over to friendship. They wed, and Sappho gives birth to his daughter. She feels great fondness for him, if not passion, and is grief-stricken and frightened when she finds herself suddenly widowed and at the mercy of her truly horrible mother-in-law.

Eventually Sappho initiated in the rites of the Sisterhood of Iphis and discovers that, though she is capable of physical passion with men, her heart is taken by women. The cast is large; some of the names are vaguely familiar from Ancient History in High School many years ago. I didn’t find them very interesting back then. Now they certainly are!

The characters are unforgettable, especially Praxinoa, the nurse and lifelong friend; Lycos, the elegant and somewhat effeminate man whose loving friendship also lasts throughout the book, and the tall, Nubian queen, Gongyla, the love of Sappho’s life, a woman who sold herself into slavery to save her people from a similar fate. I will never forget these people who have been my companions for many days.

Bell’s knowledge of society and of place seems encyclopedic and yet not overwhelming. The language is just archaic enough in structure that it keeps you grounded in the ancient world but not enough so that it seems overdone. Names are pronounced in footnotes, which is very helpful. Sappho Sings is also the most sensuous book I have ever read: the lush descriptions of place, the elegantly expressed passion of depicted intimacy are poetic without crossing the line into the ludicrous, as sometimes happens when less gifted authors attempt it.

It is simply a wonderful book. It is not a quick and easy read, and it’s certainly not a genre romance although love of many kinds permeates the pages. Part of that is the author’s love of her subject.

This book should be winning awards. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


SNOW MOON RISING — Historical, Holocaust Fiction Wednesday, May 28 2008 

My apologies for the funky appearance of this and a couple of other posts. There is a bug somewhere and I’m a bit frustrated. As soon as I get the bugs worked out there will be more reviews from myself and special contributors. Meanwhile…enjoy the post and have a giggle at my formatting.


By Lori L. Lake

Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises

ISBN 1932300503

With SNOW MOON RISING author Lori L. Lake has created something rare: a boldly written, meticulously researched book that will take your soul, wring it dry, make you cry, and make you think. 

SNOW MOON RISING covers seventy years in the life of Mischka Gallo, a Polish Roma (Gypsy), from the free but hard life of the traveling caravan through the manmade hell of a Nazi work camp, to life as a refugee in New York without even a name that is her own, to coming together with her one true love in middle age.
SNOW MOON RISING is masterful, a word I do not use lightly. The story recreates the world of the Roma, who were among the forgotten victims of the Holocaust.

The author has structured the book in a “bookend” style, which goes back and forth between 1989 and the years between and during the two world wars. The “bookend” structure diminishes some of the suspense, but it lets the reader make it through the horrible things that happen because you know that Mischka survives.

The book begins with Mischka, at eighty, talking to fifteen-year-old Tobar, her grandson in every way except biologically. Tobar is a typical American teenager who is unhappy about his life and hates his name. Then Mischka draws him into the story about his name and his heritage. It is a story Tobar–and the reader–will never forget.

Though Lori Lake is well known among readers of Lesbian books for her “Gun” series, this story of human vitality and courage will win her a legion of new fans.