This book has left me with mixed impressions. For one, it’s very entertaining, in the sense that it’s humorous and witty. Plus, the author is very astute and thorough in recounting the characteristics of the stereotypical Greek male and his family. Yet, at the same time, she does this in such fashion that it becomes a fervent rant, rather than a typically humorous account, to the point that in places it borders on the offensive. The other problem with the said rant is that in my opinion, it refers to a rather extinct male species. Allow me to explain:
It is no surprise that the book quotes heavily from the delightful movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. The male Greek, as is portrayed in the book, seems to describe characters from the aforementioned movie. But these characters are caricatures, mere ghosts of a lost era, simply because they belong to Greek society back in the 50s, 60s, 70s max. The difference here is that the characters from the movie seem genuine because they are exactly what they claim to be: Greek emigrants living abroad, whereas the author is generalizing, as to include the Greek males and their families living in Greece today, which is of course a fallacy.
In my experience, the majority of Greek emigrants and their offspring who live abroad today, still see Greece through the rose-tinted glasses of the good old Greek movies of forty-sixty years ago where stereotypes were at their best. Every resident Greek who has family abroad will know what I’m talking about because their emigrant family members seem to be stuck in a time capsule. Whenever they visit Greece, they clash badly with modern Greek society here. They appear so quaint and naïve at times, that the resident Greeks often become frustrated or even offended, as they try to explain that things have changed since they left Greece. For example, their emigrant uncles, aunts and cousins may seem stunned to come across a big mall here or to find out that the local supermarket stocks curry powder or mosquito repellent.
And no matter how many times they come back for a holiday, they still don’t seem to get it. They’re somehow foreign to today’s Greece, just like the shepherd’s ‘tagari’ in the old movie ‘Koritsia Ston Ilio’ and the nostalgic bouzouki chords in ‘Never on Sunday’. Not that there’s anything wrong with all that, it’s just that they have nothing to do with Greek society today.
Having been raised in Athens, I know well that Greek men are nothing like the caricatures of a bygone era portrayed in this book. Not only are they able to choose their own pairs of socks without mamma’s help, but they’re happy to let their wives work while they stay home cooking, hoovering and changing diapers.
As I said, the book’s merit is in its wit and humour, as well as in the astuteness with which all the characteristics of the extinct Greek male are listed. The only problem with this book is a misquotation. It falsely refers to the male Greek in general, when what it does is describe the male Greek emigrant living abroad. As I said, they often appear to be rather stuck in Greece’s distant past, and therefore I have no trouble believing the author’s claim that all the anecdotes involving her in laws in the UK are absolutely true.
Having explained how estranged I felt towards the aforementioned elements in the book, I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed the memoir parts in it. The author has an amazing talent for relaying old memories that brim with nostalgia, sweetness and the joy of being young and carefree. I think it’s a gift that should be pursued further, as it would be a shame not to put it to good use.
My overall impression of this book is that the author delivers the humour intelligently and wittily. This is why, regardless of my aforementioned grievances, I’m giving this book four stars for the hilarity, as well as for the author’s great use of language and obvious writing talent. Indeed, if there was less rant and more memoir, it would be a gem of a book! I really hope to read such a book from this author in future.
My rating: 4 stars
The hilarious portrayal of a quaint,
yet extinct Greek world.
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