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THIS WAY BACK by Joanna Eleftheriou Kirkus Star


by Joanna Eleftheriou

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-949199-66-6
Publisher: West Virginia Univ. Press

A Greek American considers her family and identity through the lens of her family’s homeland of Cyprus.

In this winning and contemplative collection, Eleftheriou considers her divided self in a variety of ways. She’s a New Yorker who’s still deeply connected to Cyprus, where her father grew up and where she spent much of her childhood. She’s Greek but formed by American culture, especially books by writers like Laura Ingalls Wilder. She’s an out lesbian but still bearing the weight of religious and cultural dictates that kept her closeted for years. In one essay, she finds an effective metaphor for this split in Cyprus itself, which remains divided into Greek and Turkish sections; taking a road trip into the Turkish north, she considers questions of betrayal, history, secrets, and grudges. “The island is like a human bone that has been badly broken but that no doctor ever set,” she writes. But Eleftheriou feels free to rove around a variety of subjects, letting the theme of division emerge rather than announce it. She discusses the firebrand actress Melina Mercouri, at once a Hollywood glamour queen and outspoken critic of the 1970s Greek dictatorship; family squabbles over her late father’s property emphasize an unsettled sense of place. It’s all intimate and a touch mournful, most powerfully so when the author writes about her sexuality. Cyprus did not have a pride parade until 2014, with marchers facing violent attacks and persecution. Much of Eleftheriou’s writing on the subject is candid about finding her voice and standing her ground amid a homophobic culture. (She recalls a Greek Orthodox priest telling her being gay was “like being deformed.”) A more chronological arrangement would clarify her family history and personal journey, but in any order, these essays reveal an impassioned and hard-fought sense of self and place.

A fine collection of essays on identity, at once wide-ranging and site-specific.