Jason's Reviews > Eleni

Eleni by Nicholas Gage
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Jun 20, 12

bookshelves: devil-made-me, 2012, reviewed, thrill-me-chill-me-fulfill-me
Recommended to Jason by: Nadine
Read in May, 2012

Although there is no shortage of books that describe the personal and familial turmoil that results from civil war, Eleni has to be among the most devastating accounts ever written. Civil war is the nastiest kind of war, a war in which one’s own brethren becomes his enemies. The disjointed sense of loyalty associated with these internal struggles only fuels the chaos. Without that feeling of national unity that would otherwise pervade a conflict against a foreign entity, civil war becomes nothing more than a vehicle for senseless killing. In other words, civil war sucks, and we’ve seen it suck in just about every corner of the globe. It sucked in Iran, it sucked in Afghanistan, it sucked big time in Sierra Leone, and in this book we learn just how much it sucked in Greece.

Eleni Gatzoyiannis was a Greek mother of five who lived in an obscure mountain village near the Albanian border. After the Germans who occupied Greece got their asses kicked in 1945, the country found itself entirely surrounded by the newly formed Soviet bloc to its north. Stalin’s influence heavily penetrated this part of Greece and empowered the country’s Communist Party to form its own military wing, the inaptly named Democratic Army of Greece. Essentially a band of thugs, these communist guerrillas terrorized the northern mountain regions in which Eleni’s village was nestled. With aspirations to take over Greece and create a classless Marxist society for which their Russian heroes would be proud, these guerrillas were ultimately responsible for the actions that gave rise to the Greek Civil War (1946–1949).

This book follows the story of Eleni as she struggles to maintain a false sense of camaraderie with the guerrillas who have infiltrated her village while at the same time trying to protect her children from conscription, abduction, or worse. This is not an easy balance for Eleni or for anyone else in her situation, for to be caught trying to protect others from the guerrillas is to be yourself exposed as a traitor to the cause. It is disheartening, also, to discover how many times Eleni misses an opportunity to escape her predicament. Although some of the doors of opportunity close by no fault of her own, others remain open and are simply ignored by Eleni due to a fear of social repercussions. Greek village life in the 1940s adheres to a strict moral code that prevents Eleni from making decisions that could have possibly averted her fate.

In some ways, the most frightening aspect of this book is the transformation of the village itself during the guerrillas’ occupation, especially once the secret police are unleashed. Before the war, the banality of life is broken occasionally by the innocuous practice of neighborhood gossip. But as pressure is mounted by the guerrillas to weed out any “traitors” in the village, this gossip takes on a much more sinister and menacing role. A meddling busybody who is once thought harmless by her neighbors now wields the power to end one’s freedom, or worse, one’s life! The guerrillas, of course, take advantage of the villagers’ proclivity to turn on each other in the name of self-preservation, and that Eleni suffers this additional burden of suspicion and gross mistrust of those around her makes her situation all the more grievous.

Eventually, Eleni is indeed executed by the same communist guerrillas to whom she has pledged her loyalty, but not before ensuring the liberation of her family. Please do not scold me, for this is not a spoiler—Eleni’s death and the escape of her children form the premise of this book as discussed in its introduction. The book is really about her plight, not her demise. Also, what’s fascinating about this particular biography is that it is written by her son who just happens to live two towns away from me. He was a writer for the New York Times who left the paper in 1980 and traveled back to Greece to unravel the story of his mother, the woman who secured his freedom. In this book, he documents Eleni’s life and the events leading to her death so that the memory of her sacrifice and the knowledge of what happened to her and other villagers like her will live on.
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Reading Progress

04/22/2012 page 100
21.0% " "When buffalo battle in the marsh, it's the frogs that pay." (Greek Proverb)"

Comments (showing 1-46 of 46) (46 new)

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Jason Abbie, THANK YOU!

I do enjoy writing these and appreciate the likes/comments. And this book was especially good—it really moved me.


message 2: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Excellent review. I'm adding this to read for sure.


Jason Jeanette, I'm glad to hear it!


message 4: by David (new)

David Good job, Morais. I'll probably never read this, but that you even made me consider it is a credit to your reviewing powers.

Side Note: I saw on FB that you rated Take Shelter, but it won't let me see what you gave it. I kind of hated that movie. I don't understand what people saw in it. The end made me angry.


message 5: by David (new)

David Sorry to derail your book thread, but--speaking of Greece--I also see you rated Dogtooth. I loved that.


message 6: by s.penkevich (last edited Jun 20, 2012 06:09AM) (new)

s.penkevich I have to confess my first thought was 'Nicolas Cage wrote a book!?' Ha, I am glad to know this is NOT him


Jason haha, yes, I don't think I would read a book by Nicholas Cage. :)


Jason David wrote: "Good job, Morais. I'll probably never read this, but that you even made me consider it is a credit to your reviewing powers."

What a compliment! This is definitely a mega "under-the-radar" book. I read it because a close friend recommended it to me and I usually can't pass up a recommendation from a good friend.

I think I rated Take Shelter pretty highly, but I wouldn't go by a lot of those ratings. Half the time I rate them right away and I think it takes a while for appreciation to sink in, or vice versa, a movie you thought you loved becomes unmemorable in no time.

I thought Take Shelter was great, though. I liked how it delved into the psychology of the lead protag, where at first I was buying into his whole doomsday theory until you learn a bunch of stuff that makes you think he's nutso yutso. And I did like the ending.

Dogtooth was good, too. That is SO messed up.


message 9: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Jason wrote: "haha, yes, I don't think I would read a book by Nicholas Cage. :)"

It would be a picture book with a series of pictures of him running away from explosions while carrying various American history artifacts.


Jason hahaha, nicholas cage sucks. :)

David, I don't really understand how some of those facebook apps work, but if you hover over the activity line where it says Take Shelter, it should include a date/time link. That link should take you to the rating.

Or, you could just look directly on my flixster: http://www.flixster.com/user/80357394...

Speaking of fb, look who I just found...


message 11: by David (last edited Jun 20, 2012 06:55AM) (new)

David Thanks for the link! Now I can judge your taste. (I like talking about films even more than books.)

The Skin I Live In: Only two stars? Where's the love? This is the ONLY Pedro Almodovar film I've ever liked.

Drive: Maybe the best film of last year... I'm not sure.

Hugo: Four stars? That was a snoozer. Martin needs to get his groove back. It hasn't been seen in full effect since Goodfellas... or MAYBE Casino.

8 1/2: One of my all-time favorites. Fellini is a great director. Have you seen Juliet of the Spirits? I recommend it to you. It's my favorite of his.

Margin Call: I'm in the minority on this one. I hated it.

Dr. Strangelove: Well, duh. That one's amazing. Five stars all the way.

Fish Tank: I'm going through Fassbender overload. And I think I hate him ever since I saw his elephantine penis in Shame.

Bridesmaids: Hilarious. Love.

The Tree of Life: Like most Malick, beautiful-looking but gassy.


message 12: by David (new)

David Speaking of fb, look who I just found...

Who? Are you building suspense here?


Jason penkevich.


message 14: by David (new)

David I don't really know this penkevich. But I see he lives in Holland, Michigan (not too far from me). He must be a celebrant at the Tulip Time Festival.


Jason David wrote: "The Skin I Live In: Only two stars? Where's the love? This is the ONLY Pedro Almodovar film I've ever liked."

Ack! David, I love talking films with you, but you are so wrong on that one. Maybe I've gotten tired enough of Almodovar that I'm starting to see all the flaws, but it just didn't hit me the way his others have. My favorite (by far) is All About My Mother.

Drive is good. The soundtrack is amaaazing. And I've been really into Carey Mulligan lately, although I'll tell you that sometimes I confuse her with Michelle Williams.

is the only Fellini I've seen so far, but I also have Amarcord and La Dolce Vita in my queue as well. I am late to the game...

Margin Call I thought was interesting. I saw it with my "finance" friend who had to teach me about mortgage-backed securities and excessive leverage.

I'm the only one of my real-life friends who liked Tree of Life, but I did like it. REALLY liked it. Loved it, in fact. It was one of the most interesting movies I've ever seen. I don't think I've seen others by Terrence Malick.


Jason David, please see Fish Tank. Fassbender has gotten a bit ubiquitous lately, and I didn't super care for Shame (although, again, mmmmccCarey Mulligan), but Fish Tank was good. Really good. And if you're into music, it has an amazing soundtrack.


message 17: by David (new)

David Carey Mulligan and Michelle Williams are mostly interchangeable.


message 18: by David (new)

David Jason wrote: "David, please see Fish Tank. Fassbender has gotten a bit ubiquitous lately, and I didn't super care for Shame (although, again, mmmmccCarey Mulligan), but Fish Tank was good. Really good. And if yo..."

I did see Fish Tank. It is good—and disturbing.

I couldn't finish Shame. For such a nudity and sex-filled movie, it was damn boring. (But have you seen the Shame director Steve McQueen's other film Hunger. It's amazing. You must see it if you haven't it. It also stars Fassbender in a physically grueling performance.)


Jason I looooved Hunger!

We are the same person. Only different.


Jason There's a scene in Hunger where Fassbender is talking to the priest and it's like 15 minutes long and I don't understand what I love about that scene but it is amaaaazing. It's a single shot and he's shirtless as usual and they're both smoking, I think.


message 21: by David (new)

David Yes, that scene is very memorable because it breaks all the cinematic rules. You're not supposed to have a long shot of two people sitting and talking for 15 minutes, but McQueen does it and it's riveting.


Jason Yup. If anyone's lurking this comment thread, here is the scene we're talking about (or at least the first 10 minutes of it which appears to be youtube's time limit).


message 23: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Jason wrote: "penkevich."

Ha, found me? I must apologize that I basically never check my facebook, but I will make sure to do so today.


message 24: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! ...good lord. Reading this thread (mostly posts 12-23), I feel like I accidentally looked down a dark alley and saw a "financial transaction." Get a room!


Jason Hahaha, this is our own personal highway "rest stop," apparently.


message 26: by David (last edited Jun 20, 2012 07:34AM) (new)

David WHY YOU SO JEALOUS OF ROUNDEYES?

We can discuss Korean things with you, if you want. Like ICBMs and Sandra Oh.


message 27: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I no want to see saltines virtually humping, first ting in morning! Let me drink my tea firs!


message 28: by David (new)

David Eh?Eh! wrote: "I no want to see saltines virtually humping, first ting in morning! Let me drink my tea firs!"

I AM SO GOING TO THROW YOU AROUND AND SHARE A CHEESE PLATE WITH YOU. AGAINST YOUR WILL IF NECESSARY.


message 29: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! No! I have my own cheese plate! White man take everyting from us!


message 30: by Mary (last edited Jun 20, 2012 09:21AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary s.penkevich wrote: "I have to confess my first thought was 'Nicolas Cage wrote a book!?' Ha, I am glad to know this is NOT him"

That would be one awesome book filled with blank mechanical stares and don't forget, he IS a vampire! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oNGKs...


message 31: by Steve (new)

Steve So, Jason, your reviews have been required reading for me for several months, but now I see that the same applies to your comment sections. All this movie talk gets me going, too.

Speaking of Carey Mulligan, I thought An Education was a great breakthrough role for her.


Jason An Education is a very good movie, Steve. But I think for now you need to put your movie queue on hold and start Breaking Bad. You will not be disappointed!


message 33: by Stephen M (new)

Stephen M Essential reading indeed. Ugh.... after all these books that I'm trying to read, now I have to find out about awesome stuff on the internet and reading these threads. I'm so late to this party, "hey everyone! What's up? I'm cool too! I have good taste in movies! Yeah Fellini is soooo good! I know who he is!"

I'd also like to leave this bit of brilliant acting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1GadT...


Jason Stephen, have you ever seen the original? It is one of my all-time favorites, I see it every October. "Harvest" season...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FdV-O...


message 35: by Stephen M (last edited Jun 21, 2012 12:50AM) (new)

Stephen M s.penkevich wrote: "Ha, found me? I must apologize that I basically never check my facebook, but I will make sure to do so today."

Sorry Penke, but after seeing this I had to look you up. I found "Steven Penkevich VII". Goddamn, if that's not the most epic name I've ever seen. You should be ruling over serfs and leading your faithful knights into battle against the visagoths. That'll go into my utility belt of different names to use in referring to you.


message 36: by Stephen M (new)

Stephen M Jason wrote: "Stephen, have you ever seen the original? It is one of my all-time favorites, I see it every October. "Harvest" season...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FdV-O..."


Oh wow, I should have figured it was a remake. Damn Hollywood. So worth watching then?


Jason There's something oddly bewitching about it. I really like it. Never seen the Cage version, though (and don't want to).


message 38: by K.D. (new) - added it

K.D. Absolutely Yay! I have this in my tbr! My brother told me this was a must read but I kept on postponing. Now that I see those 5 stars, I will line this up soon!

Thanks, Jason :)


Jason No problem, K.D.! I'm glad I could get the word out on this amazing story.


message 40: by mark (new)

mark monday ah, Almodovar. i think i've found a reason to like nearly all of his films. favorites are probably Labyrinth of Passion, Matador, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Live Flesh, and All About My Mother.


Jason I really liked Talk to Her and Volver, too. I was just disappointed, though, by his latest one.


message 42: by Stephen M (new)

Stephen M I actually found The Skin I Live In to be kind of haunting, screwing with the audience's gaze towards the girl in the beginning. (view spoiler) But did you see Broken Embraces? I thought that was extremely melodramatic and overblown. I couldn't get into that one.


Jason Hahah, I actually liked Broken Embraces. Go figure. :)
I wonder how much of this is state-of-mind, though, when you're actually watching it. Maybe I was in a bad mood the day I saw Skin I Lived in, but I was honestly rolling my eyes at all the signature Almodovar moves that have been done before...


Jeanne Finished "Eleni" over 30 minutes ago and still just sitting here taking it all in. It is exactly why I love non fiction. Not for the dates and facts but for the glimpse into the lives of "ordinary" people including the experience of the author while writing this book. Thanks for the reccmendation. Loved it.


Jason How badly did you want to punch Eleni's sister?


Jeanne Honestly---- I called her the super bad c word that you are not suppose to call other women....

Her stomach was full of "gas" and her sister is dead.


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