Book Review: Greek Expectations – The Last Moussaka Standing by Ekaterina Botziou

last moussaka

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.

Enjoy humour? Interested in exploring the Greek psyche and culture?

Find this book on Amazon now.

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11 responses to “Book Review: Greek Expectations – The Last Moussaka Standing by Ekaterina Botziou

  1. An entertaining review of a hilarious book. I would say as an English person plunged into a delightful Greek family I found the book very enlightening and informative and helpful ! Passed it on to some Greek relatives to read and they were of the same opinion. Very accurate ! Didn’t strike me as a rant. Personal perceptions I guess.
    I take on board what you say that it may not reflect the stratum of Athenian society in which you move ( you say your husband is Greek at heart, is he not Greek ?) I would suggest that Athens and Greece, like London and England has the very modern and educated and twittering classes . But that for the bulk of the population traditional values and traits persist in varying degrees, with younger family members trying to drag everyone into the 21st century.
    Above all the book is not intended to be a sociology textbook, its a lighthearted look at Greek traditional culture which as an objective outsider I would say appears to be persisting today. Even among the highly educated ! And that’s not a criticism. Vive le difference !

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    • Thank you for your opinion Lesley, which I do respect, just like I respect the opinion of the author. This is just my own honest opinion and my truth, seeing that I feel I know Greek society well, being 100% Greek and having lived in this country since the 1960s – having witnessed the society’s evolvement by the day since then, both in the city and all kinds of rural areas. Kindly note, I never mentioned in my public review that my husband is Greek at heart! To answer your question, he is British but also found the rant inaccurate, having lived around Greeks for 15 years here in Athens. Thank you for your time and input which as i said, I do respect 🙂

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  2. Geia sou from California. I actually purchased Ekaterina’s lovely book. I would disagree with you in many aspects especially since I lived in Greece in many different parts of Greece, and in the islands Greek men are typically like how Ekaterina explained they are. Unfortunately I came across certain Greek men who were brought up to only do what their mother said and so on. So I can vouch that what Ekaterina saids is true. This is coming from when I lived in Ioannina and Skiathos. Yes in Athens it is a bit different but I firmly believe that the Islands in Greece are very old school and traditional. Everyone has their own opinions with this book but as a Greek brought up in a Greek household, I think this book stands true to how our culture is.

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    • I respect your opinion, like everyone else’s who may wish to comment here and contradict me. Different people – different walks of life I guess. My review comes from my own experience and my own viewpoint. Thank you for your time 🙂

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  3. Hi Effrosyni, oh what a shame you didn’t enjoy Ekaterina’s book as much as I did. I must admit I am British with no Greek family (though I do have Romanian which are similar in many ways).

    I found the book very funny throughout and it seemed to match with the experiences I find when I visit my Greek friends in London and they themselves talk about Greek family back home as being very similar to what Ekaterina describes.

    I couldn’t see anything like a rant and it is a little bit of a shame that your review gives such emphasis to this part when you still give her a good overall rating instead of concentrating on all the positives of which there are plenty.

    I think Ekaterina plays the whole thing for laughs and as you say, she is very talented and I’d give it 9/10 for the genre I think she is writing. Maybe it is a little too close to home for you or your husband to look at it objectively as a light hearted mémoire.

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    • Thank you for your comments Stephen. I appreciate everyone’s trouble to drop by my blog and comment. People will always have different opinions about things, based on their own experiences and understanding of the world. Living at the heart of a modern Greek world, I am sorry to say, that I can’t help feeling the way I feel about the portrayal of Greek families in this book. This is my own experience and I respect yours may be different. Thank you again for taking the time to comment.

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  4. This book has been on my radar for quite some time. The fact that it’s available only in paperback form has been a deterrence, as I’m near-sighted, and only read books on my Kindle in LARGE fonts 🙂 But after this review, I’m definitely buying it! My husband is an amalgam of the past and the present, so I’m curious to see if he fits in any of Ekaterina’s moulds LOL! Thanks for the honest review, Fros!

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  5. I should make a correction: the book is available in ebook form as well. I had checked the .co.uk site which gave me paperback as the only option. Sorry about that!

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    • Thank you for dropping by Nicholas. I am also quite surprised by the amount of comments on this post – it’s not often I feel so popular, though for the wrong reasons! Thank you for your little joke too 🙂

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