Meet Greek-American Author Sophia Kouidou-Giles
Now retired from a thirty-plus-year career in child welfare, this week, Greek-American Author Sophia Kouidou-Giles launches her new memoir, Sophia’s Return: Uncovering My Mother’s Past. The story delves into the secrets that veiled her childhood, but ultimately led her on her career path. After reading an advanced copy of the book, I had a chance to chat with Sophia about her quest to uncover the past and to share this story with the world.
Born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, Sophia is the daughter of a mother born and bred in the same city, and a father whose family arrived in Thessaloniki after fleeing oppression in Asia Minor. One would think that both families being of Greek distraction would not have caused such strife. However, coming from two surprisingly different worlds had their effect.
“My mother and grandmother never saw eye-to-eye,” Sophia shared. “My mother never quite measured up to her expectations, based on the norms of her background.”
Sophia’s childhood upended one day, when she came home to find her mother had moved out. No one would explain why. She only knew she was to live with her father and her grandmother, while her mother returned to her own parents. She did visit her mother on the weekends, but this child had to live in two worlds shrouded by the mystery of her parents’ divorce and her custody.
We’ll never know if it was for her own protection, to prevent public shame—the Greek tenet of ti tha pei o kosmos (what will people say)—or even a mixture of both. But the arrangement left her torn over loyalty to both parents. While this all hung over her, she managed to grow up relatively happy, but the scars were deep.
Sophia worked hard for scholarships to attend university in the U.S. And her experiences led her to a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in social work. She stayed in the Pacific Northwest, where she worked as a practitioner, educator, researcher, and administrator. She has published articles in both Greek and English, regarding service for abused and neglected children. She’s also a poet and previously published a poetry chapbook, called Transitions and Passages. She also won a spot in an anthology of short stories via an Athens competition.
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Find the truth
The author had long pondered the questions of her past and knew she needed to discover the truth.
“I’m a believer, likely due to my career training, that nothing is better than the plain truth to explain something, to know it, so you can have a healthier outlook,” Sophia explained. “So, it became my mission to disclose the details of my personal story. I think that’s what women need to do. I had to learn the truth. My family suffered through my questions, and I kept pushing for answers. There’s relief in the truth and sharing it on paper.”
After retirement in 2011, she delved into genealogy research. On extended stays in Greece, she conducted her search. She visited libraries, visited family, and started asking questions. Then she traveled to Turkey.
“I visited Constantinople and my father’s birthplace. I saw the places my people lived, and it gave me motivation and interest,” she said.
And new perspective. For the next three years, she gathered information, then took writing classes and joined writing groups.
“I started writing in English because of my courses, but about halfway through, it all came out in Greek, since that was where this all originated. And then I wrote in both languages.”
Tell the story
Over the next four years, Sophia wrote her story. She wrote it in what she refers to as a child’s point of view, as well as the voice of the mature narrator.
“Much of the book is written from the perspective of a child of divorce, because I hope that others going through a divorce will pick up ideas on how to deal with the children. It’s not about secrets. They need to find an age-appropriate way to deal with it.”
Sophia’s Return was published in Greek in 2019 and was well-received. Even by her family.
“That’s where I got my family’s first reaction. I think living in the U.S. made me care less of ‘what will people say’ and focus on the importance of the story. This story had to be told.”
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Today marks the launch of the English version of Sophia’s Return. Due to COVID restrictions, Sophia will celebrate with a small gathering in Seattle, with family, friends, and fellow writers.
“We’ll have Greek food and music. And of course, I will be blasting Mikis Theodorakis’ music!”
Sophia made constructive use of the Covid lockdown by writing another book that she’s about to shop.
“It’s based on the Greek myths. It was so fun to write. And good medicine during this time.”
Review of Sophia’s Return
In this poignant memoir, Sophia Kouidou-Giles takes us back to her childhood days in Thessaloniki, capturing the tenor of the era. We follow a little girl from her blissful days with both parents, to the despair, confusion, and wonder at her mother’s departure. We see the effects on her, which led to her career in social services, and the stirring in her heart that pushed her to discover the truth. The truth can be painful, but it also can be liberating. Her parents long gone, there’s some things she’ll never know. Her words reveal the emotional upheaval, the uncertainty, and finally, her freedom and triumph from the past.
Sophia’s Return: Uncovering My Mother’s Past will draw you in. It’ll take you back in time. It reminds us the effects of secret-keeping, and that in our quest to protect children, sometimes we create more problems. After reading this story, I felt like Sophia was an old friend. I experienced her highs and lows with her. This book will tug at your heartstrings and make you rethink keeping family secrets. I can’t wait for her next book. Add Sophia’s Return to your list.
Sophia’s Return: Uncovering My Mother’s Past
By: Sophia Kouidou-Giles
Published by: She Writes Press
Publication Date: September 7, 2021
ISBN-10 : 1647421713
ISBN-13 : 978-1647421717
My Greek Books
Wondering what else I’m reading? Watch for My Greek Books to return next month!