Sunday, February 3, 2008

North of Ithaka

I'm a sucker for travel memoirs, and right now I'm reading Eleni N. Gage's North of Ithaka, which has been on my list for a while. It is superb. Gage is the granddaughter of the Eleni Gage memorialized in Nicholas Gage's book Eleni, who had been executed during the years of Greek civil war following World War II. Eleni the granddaughter returned to Lia, the Epirote village in northwestern Greece where her family lived, and rebuilt the family home, which had fallen into neglect. In so doing she sought to reconnect with her personal identity as a Greek-American as well as reclaim her family's past.

Gage's ancestral connection to Lia keeps North of Ithaka from being just another expat-builds-house-in-foreign-country book. The memoir reads like her personal odyssey, filled with everyday situations (and blunders, told with terrific humor) while keeping an eye to the big picture. Particularly interesting are Gage's observations on village customs and rituals. Her degree is in anthropology and folklore, and it shows. I've spent time in Greece, but mostly in Athens, so I feel like I'm learning a lot about the region known as Epiros and the way of life there. Gage's writing is fresh and a pleasure to read--a highly recommended book.

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