I planned on reading I.F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates this summer, as one of my 20 Books of Summer and for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. The more I thought about it however, the more I wanted to read something about modern Greece as opposed to Ancient Greece. My search for the right book led me to Eleni N. Gage’s 2005 memoir North of Ithaka: A Granddaughter Returns to Greece and Discovers Her Roots. (If you ask me if the author’s pretty picture gracing book’s cover influenced my choice, as an American I’ll refuse to answer that question on the grounds it would incriminate me.)
There’s lots to like about North of Ithaka. For starters, you have to admire Gage, who in her 20s decided to take a sabbatical from her New York based magazine job and move half way around the world to rural Greece to rebuild her family’s farmhouse in the small village of Lia. (The same one where her grandmother was tortured before being taken out and executed by Communists during the Greek Civil War.) While there immersed herself in the local culture (made easier by her fluency in Greek and deep roots to the area) and gained a deeper understanding of Greece’s history, politics and society. With a convert’s zeal she re-embraced her family’s Greek Orthodox faith, enthusiastically participating in its rituals and traditions. Even as an agnostic I enjoyed how she actively took part in all the Church had to offer, thereby enriching herself.
Above all, North of Ithaka is a likable memoir because Gage, first and foremost is a talented writer. It makes a nice follow-up read to Nikos Kazantzakis’ classic 1964 novel The Fratricides, as well as a suitable offering for the European Reading Challenge.