Chrissie's Reviews > Eleni

Eleni by Nicholas Gage
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Oct 08, 11

bookshelves: greece, history, bio, text-checked, favorites
Read in October, 2009

Finished: Emotionally, this is a very difficult book to read. So don't read it when you want something light and fluffy! It covers lots of issues. The history of the Greek Civil War is clearly and intimately depicted. Cultural issues such as the role of women versus men in Greek society, religious practices and mystical beliefs/customs are revealed. Abuse - there are many kinds. Is it harder to allow abuse to your own body or to abuse your own child in an effort to prevent someone else from abusing them? Sacrifice, when is it "easier" to sacrifice yourself rather than another? In a really difficult situation, do you collapse, give in and join the abusers? Where is the limit? Hatred and guilt and culpability, how do they play out as time passes, after the horrible events are over. Who is guilty? Retribution - is that the answer? This book is really composed of two parts - what happened to the author's mother and how the author dealt with this knowledge. As it says in the very first chapter, he needed to find out who his mother was to be able to deal with the question of retribution. When we die, are we gone or do the things we stood for continue to play out and influence those who follow us. No the book has actually three parts - you learn history in a way that you will never forget.

Through page 350: TERRIBLE what is happening. Nothing I say is adequate.

Through page 257: Please read my comments to Lynne under this review. They are just as relevant as anything else I have stated. Here follows an example of the text in the short factual chapters mentioned:
...in March of 1948...the Communist Provisional Government announced a new policy over its radio: all children between the ages of three and fourteen in the occupied regions of northern Greece would be collected and sent to "people's democracies" behind the Iron Curtain that had offered to take them in. According to the announcement this decision was made in order to protect the children in the war zones from cruelties perpetuated by the attacking fascist soldiers: hunger due to crop destructions, bombings and lootings.....By the end of 1948 more than 28,000 Greek children had been taken away from their parents to camps throughout the Communist block.


Did you know this? And then of course, "many Greek Communists insist today....that no children were removed against their parents' will." History repeats itself over and over again. "Oh no, that didn't happen! No way!"

I am about half way through the book. I had to know how the author went about collecting the facts. I don't think it should be read at the end, but when the reader feels he needs to know.

Through page 195: What Eleni and her daughters go through b/c they are women is horrifying. No other book before has ever made me so want to fight for women's rights. What the men were experiencing during the civil war was horrible also, don't get me wrong, but the consequences of what was considered right or wrong for a woman in the Greek mountain villages during the 40s is a real eye opener. This is a book that should be read, not to teach a lesson, but to just make clear what was happening to women only 50 years ago.

Through page 178 and part 2 is completed: The suspense is very hard to take. You know this is real life. These are not fictitious characters. This happened. What happens in a family can be as bad as what outside forces throw at you. Here both are united against Eleni and her children. She is living with traditions that make any choices that perhaps could lead to survival impossible. She is trapped by her love and by village customs. The historical facts of the Greek civil war are clearly told. You get both the emotional ties and the clear facts. Were the book to end now, it would get 5 stars.

Through page 123: History is grippingly told. Historical facts concerning Greek village life during and after WW2 and particularly the growth of the opposing Greek factions that led to the civil war are portrayed through the true accounts of mountain villagers living in Lia near the Albanian border. You go through what these villagers experienced. The men, the women, the children; the young and the old.

Through page 78. I like this book alot. The author is writing about his mother and the family in Greece during the 40s. It is personal, so you care. What she went through proves that although men are physcially often stronger than women, what she achieved, raising her 5 kids single-handedly shows great strength too. There are many kinds of strength. You see this repeatedly; the strength of women is evident in many of the books I have recently read. WW2 is raging, and at the same time the seeds for the civil war that will follow in its wake are being sown. I also find reading about WW2 from the Greek perspective interesting. The history is clearly documented but not in a boring fashion. The maps are pretty good - but I do not understand why they put in maps and do not bother to write in ALL the cities that come up in the text! I also like the psychological explanations that the author adds to explain the relationships between family members. Even though they cannot be proven by actual documents, they are logical and helpful. The author's gruff grandfather, well I will not quote him, but what he says and what he does portray him as being a wise man.
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Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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Lynne I am so glad you like it. I started to type "enjoying" but realized what a poor choice of words that would be.


message 2: by Chrissie (last edited Oct 27, 2009 10:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chrissie Yeah it is an emotional read! I like how the author constructs the book - a short, succinct cahpter usually only 2 pages stating the progression of the war followed by a longer, detailed chapter illustrating how these events played out in the mountain villages and in the lives of the villagers.

More people should read this book. I would of course recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Greek civil war, but it is much, much more than a war novel. The soul of the book is about his mother AND what "a mother" will do to save her children.


Chrissie Lynne - an afterthought. What is hardest for a mother - abuse to herself or abuse to a child even if it is to proctect them?


message 4: by Marcie (new)

Marcie Thanks for the review Chrissie. I read this book about 15 -20 years ago and will have to revisit it. It is one of those books that is difficult to say you "enjoyed" because there is such profound suffering at its core - for the subject and for the author as he unravels the truth of his mothers life and her ultimate sacrifice.


Chrissie Wow, 20 years ago - where was I? I knew nothing about this book then. I love GR and my friends here who bring these books to my attention. Yeah 20 years ago I was working my butt off with my family and my job. BTW, I like writing the reviews. It is a way for me to voice the stuff that is going through my head as I read a book, but I am glad you liked reading it! Yeah, like and enjoy, these are absurd word to use in this context.


message 6: by Marcie (new)

Marcie I think the book was originally published in the early 80's. I read it while in my 20's. I had read "The Diary of Anne Frank" when I was about 12 or so, but it was really when I was about 15, that a history teacher unknowingly awakened something in me after showing a film in class about the Holocaust... the footage of the liberation of camps devastated me and made me realize that there was so of history that we really never learn in school... of our own and of the world around us. After that I began reading everything I could find on WWII - the humanistic stories - that is how I stumbled upon Elani. I scoured libraries and used bookstores for more...trying to understand what compels humanity to commit or participate in such atrocity. It has lead me on a path, to study and educate myself on all of history, past and that being made in the present. It gave birth to my passion for and devotion to civil rights and human rights as a teen and though I haven't had the opportunity yet to travel outside the U.S. to really experience the world, I think that the reading of history and of different peoples and cultures has enriched my life and helped me to be a better person.

I love reading passionately and like many I expect, there are not enough hours in a day to keep up with all that interests me, all that I want to know.

Keep up with the reviews. I love reading them. I wish had I more time to enter into more of the dialog that is a wonderful part of GR, but when I can I do. It is wonderful to find both those with the same reading interests and those who can expand those interests.

Love it!




Lynne I learned so much when I read this book. The horrors of the Greek civil war were not mentioned in my history classes.


Chrissie Marcie and Lynne, to put i mildly my history classes were totally deficient! I moved as a child many times and as a result the different schools had different history prograns. I always seemed to get South America - not that I am any expert there either :( . Actually I think it all depends on getting a teacher that awakens your interest zand shows you the importance of history. For me it was moving to and visiting different European countries. You get hit by the different cultural characteristics of each land. Then you see the impact of history. People do not forget. What happens in the past gets carried on for generations. And Marcie through GR you find others who have the same interests. I have lended out books to neighbors; you get them back with no comment wahtsoever..... Have they even read them, these books that have moved me so?! Thank you for commenting b/c I like sharing these thoughts and getting feedback from others with the same interests. It feels important to know there are others pondering the same questions. Lynne - I knew ZERO about the Greek civil War. AGAIN one saw how the monstrosities that occurred were later said to have never happened! When the stamp of justice was supposedly put on the court trials, I felt so angry and then so annoyed at myself for my own naivity. OF COURSE, stupid Chrissie, what did you think happened, why are you so surprised, so naive? Wake up girl! I am not one who revels in knowing the dates, or the name of a particular battle. That is what history classes tried to stuff into me. What I am interested in learning is how the mentality of a nation, of a people, is irrefutably changed by history. And I love talking a bit about this stuff with others - like you two! Now I have to read something lighter, not senseless b/c that is just a bore, but somewhat lighter!.


Lynne The Little House books turned me onto history and I haven't looked back. I had some great teachers, but it was the standard European/US history canon. I would have killed for a little variety with South America. I think African history is my weakest point.


message 10: by Marcie (new)

Marcie omg... The Little House books!! Yes yes... My dear grandparents started me on those as a youngster. I still have every one of the series in hard cover and treasure them. Sweet memories for me Lynne :)


message 11: by Chrissie (last edited Oct 31, 2009 02:11AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chrissie Me too, me too The Little House books ..... the first one, was the first real non-picture book that I read by myself, with help from my Mom. The cover is beige with green ink indentations. I read most of the other ones too, and yup I still have them in hardcover! However they did not move me into history; they moved me into reading.


Lynne I was thrilled to learn that my five year old niece has discovered Little House in the Big Woods. I promptly sent her the next one. To go off on a tangent, how would you guys handle the racism in the books? I didn't notice as a kid, but the stereotypes of Native Americans are horrible.


Chrissie Lynne, that is an interesting question about how the Indians were stereotyped. I know then we would say Indians, well now it is Native Americans. I never noticed this at all either! Neither did I notice racism in Little Black Sambo. That is not to say I was raised as a racist. My parents clearly raised me to view people with different color or beliefs or religions or really anybody who was just plain different as being only different. Different but equal. All human beings. But today these are issues that even a child may be aware of. But isn't the message to be given ewactly the same - we are all equal, just perhaps our hair looks different or our color or our eyes or our clothes or whatever. The real issue is that if we are different we tend to be scared of what is different and THEN we start doing bad stuff. The only way to combat fear is knowledge and to try and get kids to see differences with curiosity rather than scaredness. You can teach this all over the place. Try different foods and visit different places and read about different people. Even when a kid is teeny and they are climbing over a soffa where they can fall you can let them do it but tell them clearly that they must be careful because although they want to discover what is up there they can hurt themselves if they fall. Combat fear with knowledge. Never stamp out curiosity. That has got to be the key. Don't deny that Indians were mistreated, but neither deny that the pioneers were scared of the Indians b/c they were a real threat to them. The fighting was violent on both sides. Each was trying to survive. Two opposing groups who didn't know a thing about each other. It is important to find stories that show "good Indian, good pioneers and good relationships" so that a the child sees good alternative behavior patterns. However you cannot deny what has happened. Maybe by learning history we can make steps to act better in the future. MAYBE, but dam it history seems to repeat itself over and over. But that is between you and me, not a young kid.

At Christmas my grandchildren will be spending the night. I am hoping that things will be calm enoough that I can read with my granddaughter (6 years and in fact she is called Linn!) The Little House in the Big Woods. Unfortunately I suspect there will be so much commotion that this might not be possible. Neither am I confident that my daughter has the time to continue the reading with Linn. Life is very hectic, more so than before. In the name of equality men and women work and both love their jobs but something has to give. Nowhere in the world is sex equality so stamped into society as in Sweden..... How does a woman have time to do everything which interests them? You have to make choices. You simply cannot do a million things at the same time and do them all well. Of on another tangent.....

Back to the point - a five year old DEFINITELY can understand the issues here if you just put it in terms they comprehend. Kids are just as smart and perceptive as adults. Sometimes I think more so!


Chrissie Thank you Sawyer. :0) It is not me that has a huge passion for social change; it is this book that is so magnificent. You cannot help but me moved. Normal fiction becomes just plain boring.


Lynne Thanks so much for your comments, Chrissie. You right that a child needs to learn a fair version of history. Discussing why Laura Ingalls Wilder depicted Native Americans in such a fashion is so important. I hope that you get a chance to read to your granddaughter. My nieces and nephew know to expect books from me for Christmas. You are right--it is so hard for parents to make time to read. Kids in the US are so overscheduled with activities!

Kids need to get an optimistic view of history so that they can become passionate for change themselves.


message 16: by Chrissie (last edited Nov 13, 2009 11:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chrissie Lynne, not just American kids are overscheduled! What you said about instilling optimism is so important. I hope you have lots of fun with your nephews and nieces at Christmas.


message 17: by Elli (new)

Elli I read this when it came out, and felt the same way as you did about the book. And the son who went back and what he found in the people there, including the murderer himself was something else, too...


Chrissie God, I loved this book. I thought I would have a chance to try and convince someonne, YOU, to read it! You have already read it. More people should read this book. the way women were treated so recently was really a shock to me.


message 19: by Mikki (new) - added it

Mikki Well, you've convinced me. Wonderful review; I like how you give updates during the read.


Chrissie I usually write reviews in this manner. I want to enjoy a book from start to finish; it is could to tell others that a book my drag sometimes in the middle. Mikki, I really loved this book. I am blushing when you say you like the review.


message 21: by Dem (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dem Great Review Chrissie, in the middle of this book and when I saw your review and rating I knew I had a good book in my hand and I have learned so much already from this book. I am amazed at how women were treated and also learning so much about a culture I knew nothing about.


Chrissie You are reacting just as I did - but that isn't strange. We most often do like the same books. I was shocked at how women were treated so recently in the past! Keep reading.


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