ELENI by Nicholas Gage
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ELENI

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In 1948, when he was nine, Nicholas Gage's mother Eleni Gatzoyiannis was executed by Greek Communist guerrillas, The book is presented, stagily, as the outcome of his search for her killers: What had ""her secret feelings"" been? ""What did she want me to do?"" ""Was I capable of it?"" So we revert to the village of Lia, in mountainous northern Greece, for the story of Eleni's marriage to Greek-American Christos, her wartime trials, and the greater horror of Communist occupation. At her mother's insistence, Eleni had remained in Lia, a decision Christos accepted. ""A woman was judged by her sense of duty to her aged parents almost as much as her dedication to her children."" It's traditional, too, for the local men to emigrate in search of work. Christos' modest American earnings make them well-to-do in Lia, while his periodic visits yield four girls and, finally, a son. On his last prewar visit Eleni, restive, begs him to take them back with him; but--she recognizes bitterly--he has come to prefer things as they are. Then, with the Germans' arrival, ""her lifeline to Christos"" snaps. There will be years of hunger, grudgingly assuaged by her miserly miller-father. The Germans will burn most of the village. And, crucially, communism will come--spread by the local teachers, who organize Resistance groups. ""Except for the unfortunate incident with the Kollios boy, the villagers welcomed the presence of the guerrillas, not only for the new purpose and importance it gave to their lives, but also for the diversions it added to the dull daily routine."" (Here, Gage's tot's-eye-view serves well.) Most of the fighting, however, is against right-wing guerrillas; three unlikely British peace-keepers arrive (the nervous, harried Scots lieutenant has a breakdown); the worldwide war ends, the four-month civil war concludes in communist capitulation, the local guerrillas lie low. For Eleni, there is word from Christos and money for a dowry for Olga, the oldest. Then the guerrillas are back (because of an internal Communist split), more fanatical than ever. But Christos has written Eleni to stay where she is (""After all, who are these andartes? They're fellow Greeks. . . fighting for their rights""). Now, as the Communists move to conscript the two oldest girls, she wonders ""if she shouldn't have defied him and the edicts of village propriety which had always ruled her life."" To exempt soft Olga, Eleni mutilates her foot. (Kanta, tiny but tougher, goes.) Village gossip turns calculating, vindictive. (Eleni has always been envied.) Finally the guerrillas, facing defeat, start sending the young children to be raised in Communist countries--and Eleni arranges the escape of Nikola and his sisters that will lead to her execution. The aftermath, with Gage tracking down the culprits (and twice not-shooting the foremost), is pulp melodramatics--except for the moment, in a refugee village in Hungary, he faces ""what my fate would have been if my mother hadn't saved us. . . ."" Eleni's story, as well, is too heavily orchestrated to be fully persuasive. But this cinematic mix of politics, ethnicity, suspense, and schmaltz does, undeniably, have a grab.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1983
ISBN: 0345410432
Publisher: Random House