Shy, stilted debut by Eleni author Nicolas Gage’s daughter, who recounts her efforts in her mid-20s to rebuild the haunted family homestead in Greece.
People magazine beauty editor Gage was living the Greek-American dream in Manhattan when she decided to take up the gauntlet flung by her four thitsas (aunts) and return to the village of Lia, located on a mountain in the remote, impoverished province of Epiros. “There is hate in that village,” declared Thitsa Kanta, a long-time exile in Massachusetts who had nothing but bitter memories of the Greek/Albanian border town racked by a brutal succession of invaders during and after WWII. During the civil war of the late 1940s, Grandmother Eleni helped her entire family escape the Greek communist guerrillas who occupied the village; they joined her husband in America, but she herself was held back, arrested, tortured and executed. After 50 years of disuse, her house was decrepit and filled with evil memories. Nonetheless, young Eleni returned to supervise its reconstruction based on her father’s redesign. She was fluent enough in Greek to do business with the construction crew and make friends with neighbors, friends and sister churchgoers (she observed all the religious festivals). Most of her friends were elderly; they either burst into tears at her resemblance to her grandmother, or wondered why she wasn’t married. Her narrative is a curiously lackadaisical mixture of American earnestness and superficiality. She declares that she learned firsthand the importance of omens to Greeks, for example, from the discovery before her departure of ovarian cysts, which she monitored throughout her trip. When she finally forced herself to read her father’s unsettling account of her grandmother’s ordeal, she had to escape the scary parts by flipping through a Greek Vogue.
A pleasant journey hardly rendered urgent by measured, unemphatic and unspectacular prose.