Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
Set on the island of Cephallonia, this familiar novel brings us right to the centre of authentic Greek life. A tale of how true love can break down political barriers. During the Italian and German occupation of World War II, Captain Antonio Corelli, mandolin strapped around his shoulder, swiftly falls in love with the doctor’s daughter, Pelagia (played by Penelope Cruz the 2001 film). But when the Germans turn against their allies, complications ensue. A journey through Pelagia’s life, from adolescence to delicate old age, will tell whether their love grows or fades through a lengthy absence. The novel blends a touching love story with a riveting account of Greek history. It is no wonder that De Bernières won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for best book in 1995.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This is not a novel that would obviously fall into the “Greek” category, but one that has several underlying affinities with the topic. The Secret History, once labeled a “murder mystery in reverse”, in fact takes the form of a Greek tragedy; in Oedipus-esque style, we nervously watch the characters follow the sinister path that fate has laid out for them. Set at Hampden College, in Vermont, the story centres on six Classics students who have formed an elite society. So intrigued by Ancient Greek ways are certain members of the group that they even reenact a Bacchic revelry, which causes them to make a fatal error in their inebriated state. It is not a short novel – though the size pales in comparison to Tartt’s latest novel The Goldfinch, a staggering 771 pages! – but this in no way detracts from its appeal. Each of the 592 pages is more than worth the reader’s while.
The Odyssey by Homer
It might have been written 3,000 years ago and by a still unknown source, but this certainly does not detract from the eternal significance and attraction of this epic traveler’s tale. We are taken far back to early Greek civilization – though it is all believed to be myth. Made up of 24 books, the story is a series of frustrating events delaying Odysseus on his homeward journey from Troy. Of course everyone knows the story of The Cyclops, Polyphemus, whose single eye is pierced through by “no one”. These epic tales will never cease to grip and excite a demographic of all ages and cultures. If it has been handed down from generation to the next since the late 8th Century BC, it seems unlikely that these wondrous tales will ever be forgotten. Especially if one reads our beautifully translated version by Richard Lattimore.
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff
The house on Paradise Street is where Nikitas Perifanis lives before tragedy strikes. He is killed in a car accident. After 60 years in exile, his mother, Antigone, returns to the family home in Athens for the funeral of her son, whom she had abandoned when he was only three years old. Intrigued by the family history, Nikitas’ wife, Maud, begins to explore the past, opening up old wounds of a family quarrel, and learning the tragic tale of a woman forced to forsake her son. This family saga meets with historical fiction as it unleashes a harrowing account of a family afflicted by the torments of the Greek Civil war.
Words by Tara Human.
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