Friday, 18 September 2015

The Good Greek Girl, Maria Katsonis


I'm restraining myself from writing tales from Tilos here so I can finish my new book; I thought I'd post this in the meantime about a book I read in Australia.

Maria Katsonis grew up in the 1970s in the Greek community in Melbourne, Australia. Above her parents' milk bar, she shared a bedroom with her yiayia, her grandmother. Her father used to make tzatziki by straining the yoghurt in an adapted singlet hanging in the shower. A good Greek girl, she went to university to study economics.

It was then that she discovered she was attracted to women, not men. She abandoned the economics degree for a career in theatre. Summoning the courage to come out about being a lesbian to her family, she met with violence from her father and ostracism from her family and the community. She was sent away from home and had no choice but to embrace a new independence. Gradually, she left the theatre for arts management and then public service in the government. As a mature student, she graduated from Harvard with a Masters.

Then, her mother had a stroke. The good Greek girl cared for her mother until she died, then stayed at home to look after her father until his death too. It led to a complete mental breadown and a serious episode of depression during which she was hospitalised. When she was finally well enough to go back to work, she realised she was uncomfortable hiding the truth, colluding with the secrecy of mental illness. Talking to colleagues about depression, she was astonished by the outpouring of stories and she started to write a book.

But a second story started to creep into the book - that of what it meant to be a Greek daughter. Through the writing she began to see traits she had inherited from her parents: filotimo, the love of honour, from her father, and her mother's filoxenia and kefi.
The Good Greek Girl
She had connected with Greece on her third visit to the country at the age of thirty. 'I felt at home in modern Greece, a contemporary country that had moved with the times, unlike the cloistered Greek village of Melbourne.' Visiting her father's village, Lidoriki, in a mountainous region just north of the Gulf of Corinth near Delphi, she was impressed by her 70-year-old great aunt who rose at dawn to bake the bread daily and had no qualms about slaughtering a goat or chicken from the yard for a feast.

On her fourth trip, as she was coming to the end of writing her story, the tzatziki at the taverna reminded her of how her father used to make it, and she found out she knew relatives of the taverna owner back in 'Afstralia'. 'I was now part of the village's history like my father.'

Maria is a senior executive in the Victorian government and an advocate with the Australia Council for Mental Health. She is a good Greek girl, 'just an unconventional one'. Her book, The Good Greek Girl, was published by Ventura Press earlier this year.

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