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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2005
It comes as no surprise that Eleni Gage turns out to be a gifted writer. It runs in the blood, I guess. Her father is the well known Nicholas Gage who wrote, among other fine books, one about his mother Eleni who was murdered by Communist guerrillas in the Greek civil war just after WW II. When I read it a few years ago it left me in a state of shock for about a week.
The present more upbeat work recounts the author's yearlong stay in the village of Lia, close to the Albanian border, where she succeeds in rebuilding the very house in which her grandmother and other villagers were kept prisoners before being brutally murdered more than a half-century earlier.
The author wants to strengthen her sense of rootedness in Epirus while holding on to the values and habits of thought she has acquired as an American woman. She wants to fit into life in her ancestral village without being seduced by a mindset she has been conditioned to reject - or at least question. She encounters lots of customs and practices that can be classed as superstition or magic (or even idolatry) that the locals think are part of Christianity but which she finds only marginally acceptable. Most of the people she runs into treat her with great kindness and become her friends even though none of them are nearly as well educated as she. They are mostly old or elderly.
The author experiences some emotional turmoil as the reconstruction process runs into some snags and delays, and as she has to deal with bureaucrats and others whose venality and incompetence would make a less motivated person wonder if it is all worth it. An almost constant presence in the book is the author's earthy Aunt Kanta, the Greek-born American lady who speaks imperfect English, believes everything in America is perfect, and has opinions on every conceivable topic, including why her niece is single and what she should do to get married. Even though Kanta is very in-your-face and sometimes a pain in the neck, she is still lovable. And so are the villagers. And so are the undocumented Albanians who cross the border looking for work.
What I liked most about this book, apart from its being very well written and sometimes lyrical, is its spirit of optimism and hope for the future - of humanity.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2005
Eleni Gage takes after her father and is aptly named after her heroic grandmother. This is the journey of Eleni Gage when she travels back to the family home in Lia, Greece to rebuild the home of her grandmother Eleni. To read this book, you must first have read ELENI by her father Nick Gage (the best book ever written!), only then can you understand the journey that Eleni takes. It is a joy to read about the friends she makes and how with each layer of the house completed, she falls under the spell of this enchanting village. Yet you never forget the dark secrets of the past. How her grandmother was held prisoner in the basement of the house and tortured before being shot to death for the crime of protecting her children. How hard it must have been for Nick and his sister to return to see the house that they grew up in standing tall once again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Eleni Gage is the daughter of writer Nicholas Gage. His most famous book; Eleni is the story of his mother who was murdered during the Greek Civil War. Eleni was adapted for film in 1985 - John Malkovitch played the role of Nick Gage
Eleni Gage returned to the small village of Lia in Northern Greece with the intention of rebuilding her murdered Grandmother's house. This is the house in which she was keep prisoner and the house from which she made her final journey. Eleni's father and his sisters have all since settled in America and the house is now inhabitable. Eleni was determined that she would restore it to its former glory - much to the dismay of her aunts who were convinced that something evil would happen to her if she dared to disturb the house with such sad memories.
North Of Ithaka is Eleni's story, and it is wonderfully written. It's part memoir and part history and makes compelling and fascinating reading. Eleni was welcomed into the bosom of village life, probably because her family was well-known in the area, but the warmth and kindness of her neighbours is overwhelming - as is the frustration and irritation that Eleni felt as she encountered some of the difficulties in getting anyone in Greece to work quickly or to a timescale.
This story is so much more than the account of how the house was rebuilt. Such insight into the lives of the villagers, their customs and their beliefs add so much to the whole reading experience.
I read Nicholas Gage's Eleni some years ago, but have never seen the film. I intend to change that very soon.
Anyone who loves Greece, is interested in recent history and enjoys travel and food will love this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2009
Arrived within 2 days and I read it straight off cover to cover. Very engaging and charmingly written. A young woman's dream of rebuilding the ancestral home back in Greece in order to draw a line under the family tragedies and signify a new, happy future for her family. Drawing on lots of advice, help and affection from her many new found friends and gradually learning who she is and what she is capable of - sometimes suprising herself! A heartfelt testimony to the power of family. Very enjoyable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2009
At last an intelligently well-written book about a 'foreigner' in Greece who isn't saying 'aren't Greeks funny with their odd little ways' but 'Aren't I odd that I didn't know these funny old customs and traditions'. OK, so Eleni isn't exactly a foreigner but she still had a lot to learn when she starts to rebuild her grandmother's house.

The insights she gives into Greek mountain-village life are fascinating and at times the memories she stirs up of her grandmotherEleni (Panther)are very, very moving.

I loved 'North of Ithaka'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 October 2011
I bought this because my family comes from that region of Greece. I did not really empathise a lot with the author. It seems to me that she had a gap in her life and tried to go there to "write a book" but there is no real empathy or love for the place coming through. It is readable though and some of the descriptions are interesting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2009
Well written book,Elini is as good a writer as her father (Nicholas). Her observations of Greek people and their culture are very interesting.
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on 28 April 2013
Whilst I bought this book because I had read Eleni what I really enjoyed about it was her descriptions of life in a small Greek village in the far north of the country. The part the church still plays in the life of the villagers, the importance of the traditions and how this much reduced village still survives. Whilst there is quite a lot written about living in the islands, this insight by a semi-insider about life in this area of Greece is well worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2014
Perfect ending to the sad story of your Grandmother Eleni. You did the right thing in rebuilding the house. X
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on 4 June 2013
Although this book is supposed to be partly concerned with the rebuilding of the house it is barely an actor in this play. The book also ends abruptly with the house not even being completed before the author jets off back to the US. Not a patch on Eleni!
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