Star Rating: ****
First published in 2014 by John Blake Publishing
“I don’t know why, but the dawn in South West London never seemed to have the same effect on me. Somehow, looking out of my bedroom window in London I’d never managed to get that enthused about the mystical properties of daybreak over Fulham Broadway – but here it took my breath away every time.”
Have you ever thought about leaving everything you know behind? Moving to a completely unknown country because you have decided you have had enough of your current life?
Well, this is exactly what Anthony Stancomb and his wife Ivana, did – finding a place so remote that no other English inhabitants lived there. This is not a tale of your usual English couple that have decided to retire to sunnier climbs, upping sticks and moving to Spain with the masses this is a tale of new adventures, fears and the disheartening fact that they may never be accepted by their neighbours.
Anthony Stancomb is a successful London Businessman. Founder of a company that promoted and sold artwork across the global, meaning late night social events and indefinite travel commitments. Whilst he loved this life and enjoyed discovering new artists after thirty years constantly on the go something happened – he wanted something different.
Ivana Stancomb Argentinian by birth, Croatian by heritage met Anthony in England. She was meant to be on her way to Croatia to learn more about her family history but never quite made it instead settling down to married life in Fulham, bringing up two children. Things changed for Ivana during the war between Serbia and Croatia; she needed to help those that were currently far less fortunate than herself. So within a month of the turmoil starting, she had assembled her first convoy of aid and continued to supply the refugee camps for two years with as much as she could transport in a collection of battered ford transit vans.
It was during one of their convoy visits that they first discovered the island of Vis. Having never delivered supplies to the Island they decided to hire a boat one day and explore. They could see it shimmering on the horizon from the mainland but knew very little about what they would find when they arrived. Mooring up, excitement seeped in.
“Drenched in the late-afternoon sun, the village looking drowsily delightful in that sleepy way so characteristic of Croatian coastal villages.”
After wandering around and experiencing the Island coming back to life after its lazy siesta afternoon, eating fresh fish and watching the locals interact during the evening walking along the seafront the Stancombs realised that:
“…it was then that we first fell in love with the Island.”
So much so that the very next day they went in search of that perfect place that they were going to call home on this little island paradise.
Finding the right property was easy, even selling the business that Anthony had spent the last thirty years painstakingly building didn’t hurt but telling the children was hard. However unperturbed, within a short period of time they were on their way to a new relaxing life by the sea.
Getting off the ferry on Vis they had high hopes. They had enlisted a full complement of builders to renovate their beautiful, grandiose Venetian home by the sea, they had shipped all their furniture and they were ready to thrown themselves into village life. As with anything however, life never runs as smoothly as we would hope and as they open the front door of their new palace the surrounds are not quite as they had hoped – rubble still present, walls looking like they might fall down and in the midst of all their furniture a hideous pile of moving boxes still to be unpacked – had they really done the right thing?
Hoping that the locals would be more accepting they headed off at sundown to mix with their new neighbours. Once again, this didn’t seem to be as easy as they had hoped and it very soon became apparent that the villagers were not too accepting of anyone outside their ‘own kind’.
Struggling to come to terms with the slow progress on their home and the treatment from the locals they begun to think about whether they had made the right move. Forced into hiring a housekeeper because the villagers had been talking and had heard that their place was a mess Anthony and Ivana began to question whether they would ever be able to call Vis home.
Patience and persistence however won out and under the steady guidance of Karmela, their housekeeper, certain influential locals started to accept them. Clearly this was not going to be an overnight success and perseverance was going to be required but they dug their heels in and continued to work on building relationships.
Anthony would spend his days flitting between Marko’s and Zoran’s bars to interact with individuals whilst Ivana would visit the grandmothers around the village to talk about healing remedies for colds and aches and pains. Between them they would try anything to win people over. They also had a number of projects they wanted to get off the ground – a restaurant, a vineyard and a cricket team but it seemed that to do any of these you needed the approval of the Town Hall which of course was made up of local people.
Will they ever be accepted as part of the village community? Do they ever succeed with any of their own projects? This is such a fantastic read and I don’t want to spoil it for you – my suggestion pick up a copy and read the trials and tribulations of village life for yourselves – you won’t regret adding this one to your book collection.
This is a novel that anyone who has ever considered a move abroad should read. I guarantee any of those fears you have ever voiced which have ultimately stopped you from taking that step and going are expressed here. From language barriers and work-related issues to being accepted as an outsider are all explored in an honest way. At times you read about them floundering and discussing whether they should return back to the UK but that was never really an option.
This honest heart-warming account of wanting to succeed with a life they have long dreamed about is both humorous and thought-provoking. It is never easy to make a decision such as the one the Stancombs made but it just proves that hard-work and determination lead to success.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone considering a move to that long-lost Island in the middle of no-where or to anyone that has even a small amount of flight and wanderlust about them.
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