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Books about Greece

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A popular topic so I've resurrected the posts from previous GGi message boards. Links liable to have been amended to help the GGi preservation fund. Originally titled 'Books about Greek Life and Language' it wandered off track, as things do in Greece, to include any books relating to Greece. Here's the posts:

#1 TonyKath. Posted 12-09-2012 @ 01:12

We don't seem to have a thread about books about Greece and Greek so I thought I'd start one. I read finished one and read another book while in Katelios last week and though they might be of interest to GGi members. They are both set in northern Epirus not far from the Albanian border but 50 miles and 50 years apart but light years in terms of experience and tone. Both are available from Amazon in Kindle format.

Eleni by Nicholas Gage is an utterly harrowing and deeply personal account, vividly and graphically told, of the author's retelling of his mother's life and his discovery of the truth about her execution by the Greek communist army in 1948 during the civil war and his own reaction to meeting some of the participants nearly 40 years later. The progress of the war is briefly sketched out as the book develops to explain the destructive forces which eventually centre on the village. It is set in a very remote village high in the northern mountains of Greece a couple of miles from the Albanian border and gives a detailed and stark picture of the highly primitive conditions especially for women. Nicholas's mother Eleni shoulders the responsibility for the family after her husband

leaves to work in America bringing upon her the jealousy of the other villagers because of the money he sends back and the suspicions of the partisans for her political sympathies. The role and conduct of the communists in the civil war has been a highly contentious issue in Greek politics ever since (as has that of the Royalist/right wing side) and Gage's book, although fictionalised to a small degree serves as evidence in the debate. About £6.99 but a lot of book for your money and one of the most remarkable reads you will ever have.

To counter that I also read The Papas and the Englishman: From Corfu to Zagoria by Roy Hounsell which I had seen in Corfu airport in July. Hounsell's book is a totally feelgood "no going back" account of his move to Zagori (as it should be known) with his wife in 1991 when hardly anyone outside Greece had heard of it and Greeks were only just waking up to it's rugged beauty. For a change this is not the usual story of miserable and insular foreigners and slow and inept builders but one of community and belonging in a tough physical environment. Hounsell befriends the local priest (the "papas") and the other 14 villagers who constitute the rest of the winter inhabitants of the village and comes to share their lives and becomes totally accepted. A book that deserves to be better known.


Edit: typo

#2 Aristarches. Posted 12-09-2012 @ 10:37

Setting up a thread about books about Greek life etc is a very good idea. I have read a great many books, fictional or otherwise, some good some pretty awful, but I am always looking for more. This thread would be an excellent way of finding something "new". For example, Tony's sugestions:

I have read Eleni but not The Papas and the Englishman etc". I will have to search through my collection and see if I can think of anything to recommend.

#3 Maik. Posted 12-09-2012 @ 11:07

Probably you've already seen this, and probably read any you fancy (I found The Consolation Prize very readable but largely unheard of): GGi Bookshop

#4 Bryan-in-Kilkis. Posted 12-09-2012 @ 14:17

What a thoroughly superb idea, Tony!!! I have a few suggestions:

1) Dinner with Persephone, by Patricia Storage. This is described (at least in the blurb!) as having been "hailed throughout the English-speaking world as a classic, one of the finest books ever written about Greece. Storace explores the dreams and sensuous realities of a country caught between East and West, its glorious past and its difficult Balkan present." I have only read half of it, despite having had it several years, but it is an enjoyable account of an American woman setting up home (or flat!) somewhere in Athens (what a nightmare that must be!) and her encounters with local people. To my mind, though, having lived here for 27 years, it is a tad too sentimentalist and rose-coloured spectacles...

2) (Three books by the same author) Crying Blue Murder / The Last Red Death / The Golden Silence, all by Paul Johnston. Paul Johnston struck on the ingenious idea of inventing the character of Alex Mavros, an Athens-based private investigator who is half Scots and half Greek, and these books are detective stories, a genre almost totally unknown in Greek literature itself. Such great authors as Mark Billingham, Jeffrey Deaver and Val McDermid have given these books glowing reviews. I have to admit that what I read in them as regards life in Greece was thoroughly convincing. I usually pencil in a note in the front of books I read after I have finished them saying when I read them and my impressions of the book, and for each of these I have put the one word "Excellent".

3) Το Πλατύ Ποτάμι, by Γιάννης Μπεράτης. OK, this one is in Greek and I first read it at university some thirty years ago, but it has stuck in my mind as a stunning account of the life in 1941 of a Greek soldier fighting the Italian fascist army in the areas now in north-western Greece and Albania.

4) Anything by Antonis Samarakis, especially Το Λάθος (translated into English as The Flaw), which is a brilliant literary strike against totalitarianism. A man is arrested for an undisclosed crime against the state and has to be transferred to another city by the arresting "officer". Το Λάθος is about how the human relationship between the two men develops and works against the totalitarian system behind the arrest. Samarakis wrote many short stories, but Το Λάθος is his best-known work and is a novella - a 90-minute read.

#5 Bryan-in-Kilkis. Posted 12-09-2012 @ 14:23

Maik, do you reckon it's a good idea to make Tony's posting here into a pinned topic? I think there could be a lot of very interesting suggestions here...


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