I thoroughly enjoyed this book of short stories by Stella Pierides that mostly have as their subject Greece, touching on its culture and its upheavals, set in very different locations and timeframes. With a fascinating mix of narrators, the stories take us from the Greek civil war, to a monastery on Mount Athos, and also bring us right up to date in crisis-torn Greece with one tale set in an Athens soup kitchen.
A recurrent motif in this collection of short, and very short (barely a page) stories is the bitter-sweet experience of the outsider, whether it's a member of the Greek diaspora returning from abroad and struggling to fit into the homeland, or a refugee, lonesome widower or world-weary traveller. The stories vary in tone from thoughtful and emotionally charged, like The Heart Has Its Reasons, about a woman who adopts an abandoned baby, and Parcels, a cleverly subtle piece about the love between mother and daughter. I particularly liked her understated, humorous pieces like Mirroring, set in a London jazz bar, and Haircut.
Stella is well placed to see Greece both from the inside and out as someone born in Athens but having spent much of her life in London where she worked as a psychotherapist. No doubt this has also imbued some of her stories with unique insight. She has an appealing style of writing with an economy of expression that nevertheless manages to convey great emotion and the stories linger with you long after you have read them. Many of the stories are written in the unusual haibun form where prose is juxtaposed with a three-line haiku poem. But with or without the haiku, each story is poet gem, offering a glimpse into moments of revelation and introspection.
My only small complaint is that the experience of reading these tales is over much too quickly and I hope that Stella will be writing more of them or even attempting a full-length novel in the near future. I will be very interested to read much more of her work. Highly recommended.
Marjory McGinn, author of the Greek book, Things Can Only Get Feta