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4.7 out of 5 stars65
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 15 April 2005
This is a truely great book. It tells a gripping and often harrowing story of a mother determined to protect her children from the ravages of the Greek civil War at all costs and ultimately her own life. This is a book I have read 3 times and it doesn't get any easier to read how Eleni was brutally tortured and murdered by her own people, just for the crime of protecting her children. Eleni conducted her life with love and dignity, she shows compassion for her neighbours and a willingness to forgive that is astounding. People she had known all of her life betray her through fear. This book teaches us the reality of life and death for the people of Greece through the Greek Civil War. However it is also a positive story of triumph over adversity. I highly recommend this book - you can't help but love every minute of it. It is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish but definitely a book you will not want to put down.
Nick Gage - how hard it must have been to re-live these memories, but I thank you for sharing your story. This is simply my favourite book of all time! There is also a DVD of the story, which although good - it cannot live up to this truely wonderful, emotional book.
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on 21 October 2011
I first encountered a serialised version of this book (Probabaly an RD version) as a child and even then it had made a considerable impression on me, even if I was probably too young to understand fully the politics of it, but even as a young boy I could appreciate the harrowing impact of losing ones mother, especially in such horrific circumstances.

Whilst there has been some criticism levelled at Gage along the lines of his personal bias and his therefore quite understandable anti communist perspective offering a perhaps skewed impression of the Greek Civil War. What is undeniable is his pedigree as an investigative journalist and the vast research that he has brought this experience to bear on his own personal story. Recreating it, as he does as a partially 3rd person account, part personal recollection through he eyes of a young boy and part recreated or imagined from the accounts of all those he interviewed (over 200 apparently) in trying to piece together the entire story of how and why his mother was executed. That he does this so magnificently and in so great and gripping a level of detail is testament to both his ability as a researcher but also as a great story teller.

It may be intrepreted as either a commendation or a negative mark against the book that apparently President Ronald Regan claimed that he decided to reenter arms treaty negotiations with the USSR after reading this book. Be that as it may, it is certainly a harrowing indictement of the many failed totaliarian regiemes and political experiments that have been imposed on peoples round the world, often against their will, during the 20th century and, as such is a good companion piece to the likes of Wild Swans and The Killing Fields. It was also interesting in that it sheds a totally different perspective on the Greek experience of the 1940's than say the fictional and somewhat at times idyllic portrayal of the Greece of De Berniers Captain Corellis Mandolin.

Like many historical books on such a vast scale this gives me an appetite for further reading and research on the period covered and the politics of the region, even if, outside all the politics and tyranny and betrayal, it is simply at heart a tale of the love of a mother for her family above all alse and the lengths she was prepared to go to protect them which ultimately cost her her life. And that to any parent of young children, which I now am myself, is probabaly the most disturbing and truly harrowing narrative one can read in any genre
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on 8 August 2011
Unbelievably moving book. Read it whilst on holiday in Greece in 2 days. At the end my husband welcomed me back. I felt completely emotionally drained. I have often read books that have made me shed the odd tear, but this one made me weep out loud. The power of Nikola's description of the moment he says goodbye to his Mother is utterly overwhelming. His writing is superb and I just wish my review could be halfway as well written as his book.

Lots of interesting historical facts, brought to life by the story of Nicholas Gage's family during the 2nd World War, and then the Greek Civil War, in their remote mountainous village on the Greek/Albanian border. It is extraordinary how badly wrong things went even though the original intentions were good and is a reminder of how incredibly evil humans can be. It also makes one mindful of judging people in difficult situations.

There are alot of Greek names to get to grips with, but he cleverly reminds the reader who they are each time a character is mentioned afresh (unless it is one of the main characters). The book also has a couple of helpful maps at the front, although I think these could be improved upon.

Read it!
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on 12 February 2011
"Eleni" is a gripping story on many levels. Eleni was able to save her children from an unspeakably bleak fate but had to sacrifice herself to so do. But just as compelling as this act of sacrifice was the way she was able to retain her goodness and decency in the face of wars, hunger, destruction and the unravelling of village society.
As someone who is not Greek but yet fascinated with the country and its culture, I found this book to be a great primer on recent Greek history. For example, Gage introduces each chapter of Eleni's story with a brief summary of historical events impacting her. In this way, the reader has an overview of political events and can connect them directly to Eleni's fate. Gage's depiction of village life and customs of the era are detailed and fascinating. Yet any romantic notions of rural life "back in the old days" (even without war and civil war),will be dispelled.
This book not only gives the reader a better understanding of modern Greek history, but also allows a new appreciation of just how good our Western European lives are right now - especially if you are a woman.
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This is an extraodinary book. The tragedy is that it is a story which needed to be told at all. It is a terrible and true account of what happens when ideology (of any persuasion) subsumes our sense of our own and each other's humanity. Though the events took place in Greece during the German occupation, and afterwards during the Greek civil war, it would be dangerous to assume that there aren't lessons here for us all, of whatever political, religious or cultural orientation. Although the story is particular to Greece during the Second World War and its aftermath, it is sadly a story which could have been told many times, with reference to different historical and geographical locations. We keep forgetting how often this story could have been told - how often it is being replayed in different parts of the world today, and how often it may be repeated in the future.
I found myself shaken at the awful story Nicholas Gage had to tell, the terrible events his family experienced, and also so grateful that he did tell this tragic and also wonderful story. Like Wild Swans this is a book which sickens you with the realisation that any one of us, given the right (or wrong) situation might forget our common humanity so easily, and yet also serves as a wonderful testimonial to the existance of something deep, true and heroic in many ordinary people, that enables us sometimes to transcend the ego driven cruel way we can treat each other. Eleni's story is stark, tragic and bleak - but also shows the illuminating and transcending power of love, compassion and and truth.
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on 8 March 2003
This remarkable book tells the true story of the last years in the life of Eleni Gatzoyiannis, a peasant woman living in a mountain village of Greece before she was executed by communist guerillas during the civil war that followed the country's liberation from german occupation after WWII.
In an attempt to uncover the reasons for his mother's death, the author puts together a vivid account of everyday life in one of Greece's poor mountain villages, the experience of german occupation, and the nightmares of the civil war as well as the events that led to his mothers death. The book is written like a novel -based on information from eyewitnesses, relatives and other contemporaries of Eleni- and is riveting as such, although clearly not important literature. The narrative is embellished by brief notes on the historical facts of the greek civil war as a backdrop to the unfolding story. Unfortunately, these notes suffer from a -perhaps understandable- lack of objectivity: by failing to mention the atrocities committed by extreme-right paramilitaries all over Greece before and during the civil war, the author omits a dimension of the war that is perhaps as important as the ideological fanaticism of the communist guerillas.
Why would I recommend this book to anyone who is not interested in a theme related to a small nation's recent history? For two reasons: Firstly, the book provides a thorough anatomy of society in a secluded, poor mountain village in the southern Balkans. Gage's depiction is likely to be interesting not just to social historians and anthropologists, but to any reader with general interests. Secondly, and most importantly, the book is about universal themes that reach deep into the human psyche: the boundless barbarism man is capable of, the dangers of ideology when not reigned in by reason and sensibility, the pettiness and cruelty of people towards others when faced with danger and, finally, the great force of maternal love.
A gripping and uneasy read.
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on 18 July 2011
Quite a horrowing read which follows the lives of ordinary village people caught up in an extraordinary time in their country's history.I had to keep reminding myself that the author was the son of Eleni (whose story it is).What comes across most stongly is the fortitude of wives and mothers to protect their families. Yet also the power of civil war to turn fellow countrymen, friends, neighbours and even relatives against one another.It is a book that I felt I had been 'part of' and it will remain with me forever.
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on 10 December 2010
Yes this book could be viewed as depressing. However I didn't find it so. Although it does almost tire the reader out with the succession of harrowing events that the heroine lived through, plus I also found it hard to keep up with all the characters, yet this book nevertheless educates the reader and led me for one to become fully engaged with the author and his feelings. I found myself wondering quite how I would have reacted, had my mother gone through what Mr. Gage's mother endured. In fact my own mother-in-law was growing up in Athens at the time when the events in this book took place and, since we've now lost her, I regret never having had the opportunity to question her about this time in her life, since prior to reading "Eleni" I was blissfully unaware of many of the details about post-war Greece and her history.

It demonstrates to any that will listen that no revolution can ever hope to build a new and just society if it's built on cruelty and violence done to others who perhaps don't share the perpetrator's political views.

It's the kind of book that ought to be taught in schools, well done Mr. Gage.

John Manuel (author of some infinitely more frivolous books, Feta Compli! &Moussaka to My Ears).
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on 16 November 1998
This book is the result of one man's quest to find the truth surrounding the execution of his mother by the Greek communists after WWII. It takes you through the life in a balkan village during the early part of this century, the fight with the Italians during WWII and the horrors of civil war in the ensueing struggle with the communists. It is a wonderful account of epic proportion, following the turmoils, betrayals and heroism of the villagers centered on the author's family. Although long, it is engaging throughout and the attention to detail is flabergasting. Jumping to the present the ending is an almost unbearable cliffhanger. A wonderful book which is leaves you humbled and enriched. The best book I have read in years
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on 27 July 2006
I have nothing more to add about the moral of the story. I just want to say that this book is a "must read"...!!! Gripping, compelling, amazing...! I was shocked the first time I read it and I am still shocked every time I re-read it!
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