Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: North of Ithaka by Eleni Gage

Eleni Gage, namesake of the grandmother who was tortured and killed during the Greek civil war and who was immortalised in her father's memoir titled Eleni, decides to take time off of her job and return to her roots. Her goal is to rebuild the original Gatzoyiannis home despite her aunts' certain insistence that she will fall prey to the curse uttered by her grandmother, forbidding family from coming back to Lia, their native village not far from the Albanian border. Willing to brave the curse, Gage returns and embarks on both a family history and the reconstruction of the family home.

This is equal parts travel memoir and family exploration. As in many moving and starting over memoirs, Gage must rely on friendly villagers to help her recreate her family's ancestral home. She runs into the usual delays and bureaucracies as she tries to make a home destined to temper the horrors of the past. Unlike other travel memoir writers, she faces the added challenge of overcoming the terrible memories and distrust engendered by the atrocities of war as she brings the Gatzoyiannis home back to life. While living in Lia and overseeing the reconstruction, Gage has the chance to speak with village elders and learn more about her family from those who knew her grandmother. She makes many friends and brings long forgotten good memories to light through these new cross-generational relationships. She also gets to experience village life, local customs, and Greek culture in a way that so few non-natives do.

In creating this memoir of her year in Lia, Gage also invites us to know the characters in her family and in the village. She has written a book that makes the reader feel as if they too are family. It is interesting and reaffirmed my desire to visit Greece and experience the superstitions and care that she encountered myself. An interesting read, this should appeal to most fans of travel narratives.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to visit Greece and this book sounds like a good substitute, for now! Nice review.


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