The cultural history of Greece is a center point of modern culture, one that can be seen in myriad ways from politics and sports to art and literature. As the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western civilization, the impact of Greece on the world as we know is difficult to overstate. Modern Greek history, however, has been a tumultuous one. Since itself declaring itself a republic in 1929, Greece has struggled through various civil wars, military juntas, coups, and dictatorships. Most recently, Greece was devastated by a combination of the 2008 global financial crisis as well as series of subsequent austerity measures. As a result, Greece spent much of the last decade in various stages of economic shambles and only now beginning to see its way clear. This obviously had a tremendous impact on the Greek citizenry.
In terms of literature, Greece’s influence is an extraordinary one. Greek epic poetry, notably The Iliad and The Odyssey, are foundational texts in much of Western literature. Contemporary Greek literature is built on both that influence as well the tumult of modern Greek history. As a result, contemporary Greek literature is lifted by both a deep and resonant storytelling form and a push to make sense of the various periods of turmoil and triumph that define the nation. The novels and other books below offer a doorway into the world of contemporary Greek literature and all that it offers.
Set on the small rural island of Skiathos, The Murderess centers around a woman named Hadoula and serves as something of a healer to local women. As a result she knows the secret lives of the island women – their pain and the bleak misery of their lives. As she works to stop her infant granddaughter’s incessant crying she begins to reflect on the difficulties of being born a woman and begins to formulate a way to spare her granddaughter such misery. The Murderess is a chilling and haunting tale.
This collection of stories from Greek author Christos Ikonomou charts the plight of everyday Greek citizens in the midst of Greece’s devastating economic crisis. Set amid the urban locales of Athens and Piraeus, the narratives follows the impoverished working class trying to simply eke by and avoid the violence and turmoil racking the nation.
Based on a true story, The Scapegoat begins with the body of a dead American journalist and a small-time Greek journalist convicted of the murder in 1948. Shifting to the present, the novel follows a young high school student intent on finding the truth behind the murder. It is a fascinating and panoramic view of Greece both in post-World War II era and today.
Yannis Ritsos chronicled the perils and promise, as well as the contemporary history of his beloved Greece, through his poetry. Diaries of Exile are comprised of Ritsos three diaries in poetry written between 1948 and 1950. At the time, Ritsos was being held as a political prisoner on the island of Limnos. The poems offer a glimpse into his daily routine, the violence visited on both Ritsos and the other inmates, and the ebb and flow of solidarity among the prisoners. It is a fascinating volume and perhaps the most vulnerable work by one of the most influential of Greece’s contemporary poets.
This decade spanning saga of friendship chronicles contemporary Greek history from the 70’s through the post-dictatorship period and into the present. The story centers around Maria, an African immigrant to Greece, and her best friend Anna. Both inseparable and fiercely competitive, the girls lives from their first meeting to adult is set against the ups and downs of Greek politics and various periods of societal upheaval.
Henriette Lazaridis Power
With her debut novel, Henriette Lazaridis Power, a first generation Greek-American, creates a familial saga spanning the years from World War II to the present. When Calliope Notaris Brown receives a call that her beloved Uncle Nestor has died, she flies to Patras, Greece. Her arrival, and her uneasy relationship with her mother, unearths a shattering family secret – one that traces back to Greece in the 1940’s on the brink of war and a fateful event that would forever haunt a family.