HELLAS: A Portrait of Greece by Nicholas Gage

HELLAS: A Portrait of Greece

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here Gage offers a ""new version"" of his first book, Portrait of Greece (1971). Part social commentary, part travel guide, this is more than a literary curio but much less than the author's award-winning and marvelous Eleni: it is, simply, an expatriate's informal homage to his native land and its inhabitants. The soul of Greece, proclaims Gage, lies in its harsh though beautiful landscape, and it is in this potent combination of scratchy red earth, blue sea, and a light so pure and intense that it ""sets every object ablaze with significance"" that he finds explanation for the incorrigible Greek character: ""To survive takes a strong heart and a shrewd mind."" In chapters distinct enough to be considered essays, Gage, showing a strong penchant for blanket pronouncements which sometimes strain credulity (""No Greek sees anything about himself that is at all funny or preposterous""), follows the evolution and manifestations of this character, so tough yet so sentimental. First, a brief history, fraught with invasion, suffering, and buckets of blood: to celebrate his conquest, one Turkish marauder dispatched to the Sultan 10 barrels of salted Greek ears. Then, incisive studies of the Greek character at work in religion, language, food, song and dance, the ritual of hospitality, and--in a chapter shocking to post-chauvinist Americans--the relations between the sexes (""Women at every level of Greek society are brought up to coddle their men""). Following this sociological survey is a swift tour of the mainland and the islands, including a fascinating look at the little island of Oinoussai, whose major crop is Greek shipping magnates. An informed and decidedly useful introduction to Greece and the Greeks, light and lively. Zorba would be pleased.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Villard/Random House