My Greek Books
It’s My Greek Books time! I’ve got three wonderful books to share with you this month. They transport us to our beloved Greece, and one is a now-rare novel published in 1945.
Keep going to find out what I’ve been reading!
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Gold in the Streets by Mary Vardoulakis
Dodd, Mead & Company (January 1, 1945)
About the author
Greek-American Author Mary Vardoulakis was educated at Wellesley. She worked for the O.S.S. in Washington during WWII, and did fieldwork as an anthropologist. I haven’t been able to find any other works from this talented author, though in terms of letters, she is considered a pioneering Greek-American woman. A few years ago, I met a young woman at an event who was the grandniece of the author, and she told me about it. Intrigued, I set out on a multiyear quest to find this rare book, regarded as the first Greek-American novel. Imagine my delight when I found it this summer, from a library sale, though without a dust jacket.
George Vardas is a young man growing up in Crete. He’s the head of his household and must work hard to earn enough money to secure dowries for both of his sisters. He later learns that many of his countrymen have gone to the United States for better opportunities, because apparently, there’s gold in the streets. Ultimately, he decides to go, and we follow him as he adjusts to American life in Massachusetts and all the challenges he faces. George becomes part of a Greek community, and they watch out for each other. He develops important friendships that affect his future. But it’s lonely without his family and life is not easy. He works hard, sends money home, and to calm his homesickness, frequents a local kafeneio.
Then he sends for his younger sister, because together, they can earn money faster to pay off the older sister’s dowry and get back home. But as they begin to open their eyes to America’s promise, will they return home, or stay and make a new life?
My Greek Books review
From the very first page, I couldn’t put this book down. Mary Vardoulakis paints a vivid portrait of immigrant life, from discrimination, low wages, language barriers, and cultural challenges. While reading, I couldn’t help but think about my father’s early days in the US; surely this is similar to what he experienced. I hadn’t previously thought about the pressure to assimilate in this way—from George being prompted to shave off his beard so he’d didn’t look like a villager, but then his uncle chastised him for it because he was losing his “Cretan-ness”—to a woman choosing to no longer wearing a headscarf, balancing the pull of the why or why not. All these things affected their job prospects and their psyches.
Mary Vardoulakis was such a gifted writer. I don’t know if she published anything else. I researched, but came up short, though I’ll keep an eye out. Gold in the Streets is a fantastic depiction of the early Greek immigrant experience, with its hardships, its great possibilities—and nostos. This is a must read.
Finding this book will not be easy. Check secondhand book stores, libraries, and online. It’s worth it.
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One Last Letter from Greece by Emma Cowell
Avon (November 22, 2022)
About the author
A former actress and BBC presenter, by day Author Emma Cowell works in fundraising. She loves Greece, and visits often. She has made many friends in Methoni, who have been teaching her to cook Greek food. And she’s learning to speak Greek! She loves the area so much, she set her first novel in the picturesque Messinian town. My husband’s family is from Methoni, so when I heard about this book, I had to buy it! Emma lives in Cornwall, England, with her husband Tony and their fur baby, a Russian Blue named Papoushka Gerald Cowell.
Her latest book, The House in the Olive Grove (HarperCollins), also set in Greece, came out in the UK in May and will be available in the US later this month.
Londoner Sophie loses her mom, celebrated artist Lyndsey Kinlock, to cancer. Sophie didn’t know her father, and she and her mother were extremely close. Following her mother’s diagnosis, Sophie put her life on hold, taking a leave of absence from her business, to care for her. Alone and consumed with grief, Sophie can’t bear the empty house and struggles to go through her mother’s belongings. One day, she finds a photo with her mom’s writing on the back: “Methoni, Greece, my heaven on earth”. Among the other photos, Sophie finds what appears to be a photocopy of one of her mother’s paintings, but she’s never seen it before.
During a meeting with Lyndsey’s agent, Sophie learns that it’s the missing Methoni V, the elusive—and in high demand—fifth painting in a series of work created in Methoni. No one has been able to locate it. The agent suggests it’s likely still in Methoni, where Lyndsey did her best work. Sophie heads to Greece with a few weak leads, hoping to not only find the painting, but to escape her own reality.
As she struggles to make contacts with people in the art world, she befriends the locals. She meets Theo, but she recently broke off an engagement, and he isn’t playing for keeps. He tries to help her, and the attraction grows. And after one dead end lead after another, she finds the answers about this secret part of her mother’s life—and work—are more than she bargained for. She and Theo are further drawn together, and they both have a real shot at happiness. But will they take a chance?
My Greek Books review
Emma Cowell’s debut is an absolute page turner. I loved being transported to Methoni, and following Sophie’s journey. One Last Letter from Greece is a story about love, loss, fate, and ultimately, about new beginnings. Add it to your list.
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A Parthenon in Pekfi: Further Adventures of An Anglo-Greek Marriage (Book 2 in the Parthenon Series) by Peter Barber
Independently Published (September 17, 2023)
About the author
Peter Barber is a Brit who fell in love with a Greek woman—and Greece. He’s a member of the UK’s Society of Authors. His first book called, The Coronavirus Chronicles: Texts from Dad.: Hilarious adventures of a non PC dad in isolation during corona virus lock down (independently published), came out in 2020.
He and his wife, Alexandra, love to travel, and live life to the fullest. His humorous stories depict the challenges of a foreigner living (and building) in Greece, along and his Greek wife, who is a force of nature. The first book in the series, A Parthenon on Our Roof: Adventures of an Anglo-Greek Marriage (Ant Press, 2nd edition, 2022) is an Amazon bestseller. Read my review here.
After all the madcap (and often exasperating) adventures building a home in Glyfada, Peter Barber and his wife Alexandra take a trip to the island of Evia. There, Alex falls in love with a piece of property in the village of Pefki. It’s been her lifelong dream to have an island home, and despite all they’ve been through with their last building project, her devoted husband is determined to make her dream come true.
Their wallets aren’t yet fully recovered, but Peter remains steadfast. The couple endures long separations as Peter returns to the UK to work and doesn’t visit Greece as often, in order to save money. Despite almost losing the property, they manage to secure it. But building will be a long—and expensive—endeavor. The couple learns they can erect a prefab house for less money. A company offers to take payments while they put their infrastructure in place. They fight Greek bureaucracy to get a concrete slab, electricity, and water hookups.
Once the house arrives, they celebrate. But not so fast. As they clear away debris and brush in the long–neglected garden, they realize their home is next to a dried-up river–and there’s a house built on it! This causes the river to fill in after it rains, which backs up into their property. Follow Peter and Alex on this adventure to realize a dream, which brings them new friendships and experiences, and even more challenges as they battle Greek bureaucracy—and nature.
My Greek Books review
Peter Barber has a great sense of humor, and fortunately, always looks on the bright side. You’ll love getting to know Peter and Alexandra, and enjoy reading Peter’s musings about the island, the villagers, his interactions with the sea, meeting creatures great and small. And thank goodness for Alexandra, who never backs down and adds spice to everyone’s life. Now I want to go hang out with them and join in on the fun. More books are on the way, and I can’t wait to read what happens next.
In A Parthenon in Pefki, follow Peter Barber as he learns more about living–and building–in Greece. Whatever can go wrong does, but his musings will have you laughing out loud. Book 2 in the Parthenon Series is another endearing and humorous story you won’t soon forget. Put this one on your list.
My Greek Books—October 2023 Edition
That’s it for this month. I know, I know, the ‘to-be-read’ list is growing. But remember, there’s no such thing as too many books–there’s always room for more! See you next month for more My Greek Books. Never stop reading!