Destination: Northern Greece
Book: Eleni by Nicholas Gage
A GUEST POST by Michelle Duffy
Eleni is a story of passions. The passionate love a mother has for her children; the passionate fervor of men and women who take up arms to improve their world; the small passions which we call neighborly disagreements but which, given the right circumstances, can have terrible consequences. It is a story of family and of tradition told against the backdrop of the Second World War, the Cold War and the Greek Civil War. It is a story of immigration told by someone who knows what it was like to be left behind and then later, had to learn how to become an American.
Nicholas Gage starts with the execution of his mother. He tells his own story about his emigration to America and how he felt compelled to tell his mother’s story even from a young age. We learn about his first visit to Greece in 1963 when he realized that he was now a stranger in this village where, just 14 years before, ‘every tree and rock’ had been familiar to him.
We feel the depth of his emotion as he begins to understand that he cannot write his mother’s story from memory, that to tell it well he has to take the reader to Greece to the pre-war years and describe the hardscrabble life of the people in the bare, mountainous villages in the Mourgana mountains on the Albanian border – where his mother grew up. He has to accompany the reader through the war years in that village as the factionalism between the Democratic (EDES) and Communist (ELAS) groups was building even as the country was occupied by the Nazis.
Eleni’s story sets the tempo and emotional depth of the book. Gage skillfully alternates short factual chapters framing this tragic story within the contemporary political situation in Greece and the world. His training an investigative reporter for the New York Times comes out strongly as he maintains his powerful narrative while interspersing references to the people and sources he used to develop the factual basis for the story almost imperceptibly. You will feel the hunger of the children as the deprivations of WW II lift only briefly to be replaced by the harsher and more complicated Civil War. You will cry for the village girls wrenched from their conservative homes to be trained as andartinas – guerrillas. You will ache for the hearts and arms of the mothers whose children were taken in pedomasoma.
Like the British soldiers mentioned in this story, on my first visit to Greece – in 1991 – my expectations were heavily influenced by a “romantic mist distilled from the poetry of Byron and Keats”. Rudely awakened by the hustle and bustle of modern-day Athens, I went looking to learn more about this fascinating country and a family member recommended Eleni. Reading this powerful story has helped me understand Greece at a much deeper level than as a casual tourist, in fact, you might say that it started my love affair with this enigmatic country. I’ve been back to Greece twice since that first visit and I plan to return many more times if I can.
Michelle blogs as WanderMom and is co-author of Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling with Kids. She is currently planning a 15-month round-the-world trip with her family. She is a co-founder of the travel bloggers’ fund-raiser, Passports with Purpose and of BestFamilyTravelAdvice.com.
Michelle is a busy lady, and we are fortunate to have her share one of my own favorite countries, and a book I also found inspiring. I particularly want to put in a plug for Passports with Purpose. Please check it out. I’ll be participating. Last year we built a school in Cambodia. This year the goal is a whole village in India. Good for the founders, including Michelle!!