Friday, 19 April 2013

A handful of Greece-related books (and one not)

With my editor's hat on (and I will never, ever reveal what an editor's hat looks like, as it is very silly... see below*), I was reading a US publishing newsletter the other day and saw that there were not one but two new books being planned about cooking with 'the new superfood' Greek yoghurt. 

Well, it's always good to have an excuse to eat more Greek yoghurt, though I'm not convinced of the need to cook with it when you can just eat it with honey. Or make tzatziki.

Tzatiki for you to say! you may retort. Or perhaps you may not, but that leads me nicely to my next point, as it is the title of a completely enjoyable book I purchased recently, written by Rhodes resident John Manuel. He and his half-Greek wife have lived on the island for many years, and the book has true warmth and depth of knowledge; although each of the chapters is a stand-alone piece rather than part of a bigger story, you build up a picture of what life can be like in a quiet spot on the island. 

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I learned such nifty tricks as how to keep insects off the fruit trees, laughed out loud at descriptions of how to paint trees with lime, and got ideas of places to explore on the island. The piece that affected me most, though, was his poignant illustration of the detrimental effects of big all-inclusive hotels. I'd heard Rhodes residents talk of this before, but he showed how it affects the whole community - and the travellers too, who have a poorer experience. It's a fine book for anyone interested in Greece, has a great title of course, and the good news is that there are several other books in the series, as well as a novel, The View from Kleoboulos. And Manuel writes a blog, Ramblings from Rhodes.

Last week I finished reading a very different book, one not strictly about Greece but which partly takes place during the war in Cyprus in the 1970s. Susan Joyce, an American who lived in Cyprus and Germany and is now based in Uruguay, had a successful career as an artist and her first book, called The Lullaby Illusion (she has a website of the same name) came to me through a mutual friend who noticed we had both written travel memoirs that read a little like fiction. It turned out there were several themes in her book that really struck a chord.

Living in Kyrenia, Susan was among the group of internationals who were caught in the crossfire when war broke out in Cyprus. The account of bullets whizzing past as they hide out near the UN camp is gripping, and I certainly learned a lot. The speculation that her husband at the time might have been a double agent adds intrigue. But what I loved most about the book was Susan's spirit and her ability, in spite of the many difficulties she experienced, to see the positive and to build a new life for herself as an independent woman in Frankfurt, surrounding herself by great friends. 'I lost a child, but found myself. Went through a coup and a war. Lost everything I owned... My married died. But I survived.'

Soon after finishing that book last weekend, I had to take the long ferry journey from Athens to Tilos, and luckily managed to pick up a paperback book for my 17-hour journey: Victoria Hislop's The Thread. Most of you will already know this is her novel about Thessalonika during the first half of the 20th century. I am coming to the party a little late because I struggled to connect with her Spanish book, and it's pure luck that I found this and decided to give it a try.

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It tells the stories of a small circle of people who lived through the through population exchanges that took away the Muslims and brought Greeks from Asia Minor; fires that destroyed homes and livelihoods; and German occupation during World War Two - I can hardly bear to read it at the moment as the Jewish families have been forced to leave and sent to Poland. But I'm wrapping this up now so I can finish it tonight. It is superbly written, an extraordinary work of imagination and memorable details.

But before I go, one last exciting piece of news, just in! OK, it's not a book about Greece, but Kosovo, not so very far away... Elizabeth Gowing, author of Travels in Blood and Honey, has a new book out at the end of May called Edith and I: On the Trail of an Edwardian Traveller in Kosovo. I read a couple of early chapters and it was utterly beautiful, so I can't wait to read the rest! Look it up, and pre-order - you'll be in for a treat.

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Happy reading! And before I go, thank you again to all the people who continue to send lovely messages about Falling in Honey, or who have written nice reviews. I'm enormously grateful. 


* sorry, but that joke made me giggle when I thought of it... I was walking back from Skafi and must have been high on the smell of wild sage 

12 comments:

  1. Read Victoria Hislop's The Island which I found very moving. I simply love Greek yoghurt too

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    1. I learned so much from The Thread. I usually wish books were shorter but I could have read another 100 pages of that if she had expanded the post-war part that wraps up so quickly at the end.
      I always have far too much to read, being an editor, but it's nice to have The Island to look forward to, maybe this summer...

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  2. Hi. Have just finished your book 'Falling in Honey' on a bluebird day at the far end of Cornwall, sat in the sun with a cup of coffee at a little mosaic table.......nearest I can get to what you oft describe! Loved the book. The stories-within-the-story and the sentiments remind me of travelling and working in Austria when I was younger. Now live with a view of the sea in a sometimes sunny spot of cornish heaven. Have had to save your blog page to my homescreen so I can follow "what happens next in Tilos"....and think I may have to order 'Edith and I'. Thankyou. Regards. Victoria

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    1. Hi Victoria,

      Oh, Cornwall is one of the best places in the world! The rugged parts of the Tilos coastline sometimes remind me of Cornwall. Thrilled you loved the book - thank you for your sunny message.

      Best,
      Jen

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    2. Oh, I forgot to mention, but if you're able to write a few words of review on Amazon or Goodreads, it would be great - it helps Amazon's system recommend the book to other readers! Cheers, J

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    3. HI Jen, duly written on amazon. And have discovered I can access a lot more of your blog on my laptop than on my phone which is great because feel like I am rereading portions of the book but with glorious photos now, even better! Does your friend in cornwall also have a blog?
      regards Victoria

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    4. I'm glad you like the photos. Tilos is rather photogenic...
      Sorry, which friend in Cornwall? If you mean the one I mention in the book, then no. Thank you for reviewing on Amazon!

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  3. Hi
    I just finish your book falling in honey and i looved it!!!
    I laughed so much when you were describing how greeks are very strict when it comes to food combination!
    I am from Greece living in norway and it is very funny to see that my norwegian family thinks the same about greek yoghurt and in general greek food!
    Is it going to be trnslated in other languages f.e norwegian?
    Thanks for taking me back to my beautiful country while beeing in a grey country!
    Χαιρετίσματα

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    1. Hi Daniel,

      You have no idea how happy messages like this make me - I'm thrilled that I could bring you a little bit of your home country! (Though I must admit, I've always wanted to go to Norway, and the Norwegian people I meet on holiday in Tilos are lovely.)
      It would be fantastic if the book was translated into other languages but I haven't connected with the right Norwegian publisher yet. Just finished the edits of the US version that comes out next year, and there's an audiobook available.

      Very best wishes (sorry my computer doesn't write in Greek but 'heretismata'!)
      Jen

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    2. Oh, I forgot to mention, but if you're able to write a few words of review on Amazon or Goodreads, it would be great - it helps Amazon's system recommend the book to other readers! Cheers, J

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  4. Hi Jennifer
    If you enjoyed The Thread you might like Louis De Bernieres beautiful book Birds Without Wings which tells the story about the Greeks who were deported from a village near Fethiye in Turkey in 1923.

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    1. That's a great tip, thanks - have just ordered a copy.

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