Stories about contemporary Greece are few and far between and often get lost amongst the dozens and dozens of titles about antiquity.
But recent events in Greece, including the financial crisis and the decades-old migration movements that brought waves of Asian and African migrants to Greece have changed that as contemporary writers have shared their experiences and those of their nation, via literature.
These novels below offer an interesting doorway into the world of contemporary Greek literature, history and culture.
By Alexandros Papadiamantis
Introduction and translation by Peter Levi
The Murderess is a bone-chilling tale of crime and punishment with the dark beauty of a backwoods ballad. Set on the dirt-poor Aegean island of Skiathos, it is the story of Hadoula, an old woman living on the margins of society and at the outer limits of respectability. Hadoula knows about herbs and their hidden properties, and women come to her when they need help. She knows women’s secrets and she knows the misery of their lives, and as the book begins, she is trying to stop her new-born granddaughter from crying so that her daughter can at last get a little sleep. She rocks the baby and rocks her and then the terrible truth hits her: there’s nothing worse than being born a woman, and there’s something that she, Hadoula, can do about that. Peter Levi’s matchless translation of Alexandros Papadiamantis’s astonishing novella captures the excitement and haunting poetry of the original Greek. Get the book here.
Something Will Happen, You’ll See
By Christos Ikonomou
Translated by Karen Emmerich
Ikonomou’s stories convey the plight of those worst affected by the Greek economic crisis–laid-off workers, hungry children. In the urban sprawl between Athens and Piraeus, the narratives roam restlessly through the impoverished working-class quarters located off the tourist routes. Everyone is dreaming of escape: to the mountains, to an island or a palatial estate, into a Hans Christian Andersen story world. What are they fleeing? The old woes–gossip, watchful neighbors, the oppression and indifference of the rich–now made infinitely worse. In Ikonomou’s concrete streets, the rain is always looming, the politicians’ slogans are ignored, and the police remain a violent, threatening presence offstage. Yet even at the edge of destitution, his men and women act for themselves, trying to preserve what little solidarity remains in a deeply atomized society, and in one way or another finding their own voice. There is faith here, deep faith–though little or none in those who habitually ask for it. Get the book here.
By Sophia Nikolaidou
Translated by Karen Emmerich
An engrossing and richly panoramic novel from a major new writer, based on a true story… In 1948, the body of an American journalist is found floating in the bay off Thessaloniki. A small-time Greek journalist is tried and convicted for the murder…but when he’s released twelve years later, he claims his confession was the result of torture.
Flash forward to contemporary Greece, where a rebellious young high school student is given an assignment for a school project: find the truth. And as he begrudgingly takes it on, he begins to make a startling series of gripping discoveries–about history, love, and even his own family’s involvement.Based on the real story of famed CBS reporter George Polk—journalism’s prestigious Polk Awards were named after him—The Scapegoat is a sweeping saga that brings together the Greece of the post-World War II era with the Greece of today, a country facing dangerous times once again.
As told by key players in the story—the dashing journalist’s Greek widow; the mother and sisters of the convicted man; the brutal Thessaloniki Chief of Police; a U.S. Foreign Office investigator, and, finally, the modern-day student, in the novel’s most stirring narration of all–The Scapegoat confronts questions of truth, justice, and sacrifice…and how the past is always with us. Get the book here.
Diaries of Exile
By Yannis Ritsos
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Karen Emmerich
Yannis Ritsos is a poet whose writing life is entwined with the contemporary history of his homeland. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this volume, which presents a series of three diaries in poetry that Ritsos wrote between 1948 and 1950, during and just after the Greek Civil War, while a political prisoner first on the island of Limnos and then at the infamous camp on Makronisos. Even in this darkest of times, Ritsos dedicated his days to poetry, trusting in writing and in art as collective endeavors capable of resisting oppression and bringing people together across distance and time. These poems offer glimpses into the daily routines of life in exile, the quiet violence Ritsos and his fellow prisoners endured, the fluctuations in the prisoners’ sense of solidarity, and their struggle to maintain humanity through language. This moving volume justifies Ritsos’s reputation as one of the truly important poets in Greece’s modern literary history. Get the book here.
Why I Killed My Best Friend
By Amanda Michalopoulou
Translated by Karen Emmerich
In Amanda Michalopoulou’s Why I Killed My Best Friend, a young girl named Maria is lifted from her beloved Africa and relocated to her native Greece. She struggles with the transition, hating everything about Athens: the food, the air, the school, her classmates, the language. Just as she resigns herself to misery, Anna arrives. Though Anna’s refined, Parisian upbringing is the exact opposite of Maria’s, the two girls instantly bond over their common foreignness, becoming inseparable in their relationship as each other’s best friend, but also as each other’s fiercest competition—be it in relation to boys, talents, future aspirations, or political beliefs.
From Maria and Anna’s grade school days in ’70s, post-dictatorship Greece, to their adult lives in the present, Michalopoulou charts the ups, downs, and fallings-out of the powerful self-destructive bond only true best friends can have. Simply and beautifully written, Why I Killed My Best Friend is a novel that ultimately compares and explores friendship as a political system of totalitarianism and democracy. Get the book here.
The Clover House
By Henriette Lazaridis Power
This stunning debut novel brings to life World War II-era and modern-day Greece—and tells the story of a vibrant family and the tragic secret kept hidden for generations.
Boston, 2000: Calliope Notaris Brown receives a shocking phone call. Her beloved uncle Nestor has passed away, and now Callie must fly to Patras, Greece, to claim her inheritance. Callie’s mother, Clio—with whom Callie has always had a difficult relationship—tries to convince her not to make the trip. Unsettled by her mother’s strange behavior, and uneasy about her own recent engagement, Callie decides to escape Boston for the city of her childhood summers. After arriving at the heady peak of Carnival, Callie begins to piece together what her mother has been trying to hide. Among Nestor’s belongings, she uncovers clues to a long-kept secret that will alter everything she knows about her mother’s past and about her own future.
Greece, 1940: Growing up in Patras in a prosperous family, Clio Notaris and her siblings feel immune to the oncoming effects of World War II, yet the Italian occupation throws their privileged lives into turmoil. Summers in the country once spent idling in the clover fields are marked by air-raid drills; the celebration of Carnival, with its elaborate masquerade parties, is observed at home with costumes made from soldiers’ leftover silk parachutes. And as the war escalates, the events of one fateful evening will upend Clio’s future forever. A moving novel of the search for identity, the challenges of love, and the shared history that defines a family, The Clover House is a powerful debut from a distinctive and talented new writer. Get the book here.