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North of Ithaka: A Granddaughter Returns to Greece and Discovers Her Roots Paperback – April 4, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
When Gage decided to take a break from her magazine career in Manhattan to rebuild her ancestral home in a Greek village in 2002, her father's four sisters, who'd by then emigrated to Massachusetts, were not amused. They predicted she'd be killed by Albanians and eaten by wolves. Even worse, they feared she would invite the curse of their mother—Gage's namesake—who, in 1948, was arrested, imprisoned, tortured and executed by a firing squad for plotting her family's escape to the U.S. during the Greek civil war (Gage's father, Nicholas, chronicled these events in his 1983 bestseller, Eleni). In rebuilding her grandmother's ruined home, Gage hoped to reverse some of the devastation her grandmother's murder caused. Those familiar with Under the Tuscan Sun–type expat tales won't be surprised when Gage becomes mired in massive amounts of bureaucratic red tape, but manages to fulfill her dream with the help of kind villagers. Her recounting of this odyssey is occasionally maudlin, but the scope of her rebuilding effort is Herculean enough to keep readers turning pages to see the finished product for themselves. Reconstruction of the original Gatzoyiannis home is overshadowed by the story's real meat: the building of a bridge between an American and her tough-as-nails roots. Photos. Agent, Andy McNicol at William Morris. (May)
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“A tale of homecoming and reconciliation, ‘North of Ithaka' proves the regenerative powers of home.” ―The New York Sun
“Gage's vivid personal account captures the seasonal rhythms and everyday dramas of Greek life beyond the familiar resort islands, revealing a place that is, in the most traditional sense, old-world.” ―Travel & Leisure
“Imbued with forgiveness, with the rebuilding of lives and houses, and moving on from tragedy...In coming full circle [Gage] has helped soothe the pain of a traumatized family.” ―The Times Literary Supplement
“Ms. Gage's house project is partly an effort to move beyond the pain of memory. . . honest. . . amusing. . .she treats tradition with respect and history with realism.” ―Wall Street Journal
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The year in Lia turns out to be cathartic for all involved. Ms. Gage explores the tragedy of the past, but also the joys of village life. Whether you are part of or have contact with the Greek diaspora, or are simply interested in other cultures, there is much to learn and enjoy in her description of daily life in Lia, Greece.
One disappointment is her description of Orthodox Christianity as just another superstition, thrown in with coffee ground fortune telling, the evil eye, pagan rituals, etc. Her description implies that Orthodoxy is meaningful as folklore, no more nor less. No doubt Ms. Gage is not alone in her perspective (in Greece or elsewhere), but for readers who hold their Orthodox faith as something life-giving and true, it can be troubling in this aspect.
This book made me curious about the first part of the Gage family history, told in Eleni and a Place for Us, by Ms. Gage's father, Nicholas Gage. They are both outstanding, and this is a nice companion, though much more lighthearted and warm than the intensity of suffering in the first part of the family story.
I loved reading it - I was mesmerized by it and during this snowed-in weekend when I read it, I was transported to Lia, where I lived under its magnificent sky with the changing sunset colors (enjoyed from the vernada of the Haidis house); observed up close the house reconstruction project; and came to know an entire village, feeling if not a Liotan myslef, at least like a frequent visitor.
What also springs out of the book, perhaps more than Lia and its people, is the author herself: nice, smart, mature, perceptive and talented.
And a note to her father: you're a great author but she is at least as good a writer as you, not to say better. So please give up the comparisons with her at the Thanksgiving table, there are genetics out there and there is also evolution -- and she has both aplenty. I'm sure you glow with justified pride having her as a daughter. Anyone would!
Bottom Line: A SUPERB BOOK - NOT TO BE MISSED!