Stratmann’s debut novel draws from her own experience as a young Greek child taken from her family to be adopted by an American couple.
It’s 1958 in the small Greek village of Pirgos. Sousanna is a happy 5-year-old, the youngest child of Niko and Katerina Demetriou. Niko is a farmworker, tending the fields with his 8-year-old son, Ilias (11-year-old Marios has just left home), desperately poor, and struggling to feed his family. Greece itself is reeling from the devastation of the Great Depression, World War II, and the subsequent Greek civil war. Enter Peter Bakas, an American lawyer who finds Greek orphans to place with black-market adoptive parents in the United States—except he no longer confines himself to orphans. Now he prefers to find children who have not been physically and emotionally scarred by the overflowing orphanages. That means paying parents to give up their children; in some cases, it means effectively stealing them under false pretenses. This is what happens to Sousanna. Peter says to Niko: “Let me take her to America, where she will have a good life. When things are better she will come home to you again. You are a wise man, Niko. This life is not your fault, but keeping Sousanna here to suffer will be.” He deceptively promises this will be temporary, that there will be letters and photographs. The novel is narrated by Sousanna in the present tense, and we hear the tearful frightened child, the angry teenager, and the young, married adult. Interspersed third-person-narration chapters fill in details about Peter and about the pain and anger that almost destroyed Sousanna’s Greek family. The author provides a closing synopsis of historical context through which to understand how this could happen. She tells us that this “is also, sadly, the story of thousands of other children and their families.” Family photos remind readers this is more than a novel.
Gripping and heart-wrenching; historically important, with contemporary relevance.