The Blurb (from Goodreads):
Half the Perfect World is an account of the expatriate artist community on the Greek island of Hydra from 1955 to 1964. Fostered by celebrated Australian literary couple Charmian Clift and George Johnston, this fabled ‘colony’ came to include Leonard Cohen and numerous other writers and artists. What brought this group to Hydra? What does their story reveal about the post-war world? Looking at the Hydra expatriates through their writing, letters, diaries, and photographs, Genoni and Dalziell identify a deep restlessness within a rapidly changing time of emerging social movements and counter-cultures, shifting geo-political realities, incipient pop-cultures, new technologies of communication and entertainment, and altered understandings of what it meant to live as an expatriate artist.
I have been interested in the life of Charmain Clift ever since my aunt gave me her memoir, Mermaid Singing, for my birthday in 1994.
Charmain Clift and her writer-husband, George Johnston, took their young family to live on the Greek island of Hydra in the ‘50s, and became the epicentre of a group of other writers, artists and musicians whose lives and loves ebbed and flowed like the tides of the wine-dark sea. George Johnston wrote My Brother Jack on Hydra, and returned to Australia after it was published to much acclaim in 1964. It won the Miles Franklin award the following year.
I’ve read numerous books about their lives on Hydra since, but this is one of the most interesting.
Firstly, because it does not focus only on the tumultuous marriage and literary careers of Charmain Clift and George Johnston, but also looks at the lives of many of the other creative artists who ended up in Hydra, including singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and his partner Marianne Ihlen. I was not familiar with their story and found it fascinating and illuminating. It also has a lot of fresh material like letters and diaries which I found really added to the book’s depth.
Secondly, the book is beautifully illustrated with photographs taken by LIFE magazine photo-journalist James Burke. These images gave me such an intimate and revealing look into every-day life on Hydra. Loved it!
Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.