North of Ithaka by Eleni Gage

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Word PressAll right, this isn’t historical – it’s written about the author’s experiences in 2002! – but it “goes” with Eleni and A Place For Us, written by the author’s father.  This book is about the experiences of the granddaughter and namesake of the Eleni of the first book as she spends a year organising and overseeing the reconstruction of her grandparents’ house – which was also the place where her grandmother and many others were tortured during the Greek civil war of the 1940s.

Some of it’s the kind of sitcom-type stuff you’d expect as a New Yorker tries to cope with life in a remote Greek village, dealing with Albanian builders, red tape, the internet being super-slow and pretty much everything else being rather slow.  However, it’s much more about a “hyphenated American” learning about her family’s heritage, someone who’s used to life in the fast lane enjoying life in the slow lane and someone who’s used to living in a big city learning about life in a small village where everyone knows everyone else.  A lot of people find it difficult to move between two different ways of life, and a lot of people struggle to be part of one culture, but Eleni Gage seems not to, which makes this a very happy book, even given the terrible things that happened to her grandmother.

In particular, it’s about the customs and beliefs and way of life of a particular place.  Sometimes it seems that traditions are being lost.  You go to most parts of Europe and everyone’s dressed the same way as they are anywhere else in the West, there are the same shops everywhere, there are adverts in English regardless of what the language of the country is, the same music’s playing everywhere … sometimes everything seems so “samey”, and it seems as if centuries of different cultures are disappearing.  It’s wonderful when you’re reminded that, in fact, these traditions are still alive and kicking.

An amusing book which manages to be both light-hearted and thought-provoking.   Good stuff!

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