by George C. Papavizas (American Hellenic Institute Foundation, 2002)
I was cruising my own bookshelves in search of something I had not already read, and I happened on this book of my husband’s. It’s inscribed to both of us by the author; he got it at an event where Papavizas gave a lecture. I’ve heard a lot about the decade of the forties in Greece not only from my history buff husband but also from my in-laws, who lived through it; and I have read Eleni, by Nicholas Gage (which is cited several times in this book), and seen the film based on it. I figured it was time to round out my education.
There are some similarities between this book and Eleni: both families lived in Macedonia, the northwestern Greek province that was largely under the control of the andartes, the Communists, during the Civil War; but Nicholas Gage was only 8 when his mother was shot by the andartes and he and his siblings escaped to join their father in America. George Papavizas was ten years older, and so rather than leaving for America, he is drafted into the Greek army, and he spends the Civil War years fighting the andartes. It is a much different perspective, of course; what Gage has to reconstruct based on research because he cannot remember it and/or did not experience it himself, Papavizas narrates as a first-person observer of some of the key battles of the Civil War. This does not mean that Papavizas’ account is not well-researched, because it is; there are 32 pages of notes and sources. But he can remember a lot more than Gage could and tells the story–his own and that of Greece in general and Macedonia in particular–in great detail. The combination of researched historical information and a personal story make for a very interesting book.
The love part of the book is based on the story of the author’s love for his wife Mary, whom he meets when he is a first-year student at the University of Salonika (Thessaloniki), corresponds with while he is in the Army, and marries when the war finally ends. Theirs was apparently a very special relationship which lasted for fifty years.
Papavizas explains clearly why Greeks continue to be so upset by the use of the name Macedonia for the former Yugoslav province to the north of Greece. Although we may laugh at the Greeks’ insistence that we call the present nation the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), here we learn that there is a long history of non-Greeks attempting to separate the Greek province of Macedonia from Greece itself and annex it.
It was particularly interesting for me to put together the stories I knew from this time period with this account. For example, my father-in-law, Dimitrios Liakos, was wounded in Albania fighting the Italians and was hospitalized in Corinth. When Greece was occupied (by the Italians, Germans, and Bulgarians simultaneously), he was discharged from the hospital, along with many others, and told to make his way back home on his own–that being a better option than being taken prisoner (or executed) by the Nazis. It took him two weeks, wounded as he was in the shoulder and leg, to get back to Marathias, his village in Evrytania, in Central Greece. And during the Civil War, people fled the village to escape the andartes. They found refuge near the small city of Agrinio, to the south, where my husband was born; they returned to Marathias a couple of years later to find everything they had before had been destroyed; their house was burned. The village never recovered from the devastation. Today, fewer than ten people, mostly the elderly, live there. This is the story of thousands of villages in rural Greece, and it is a very sad story.
Link to the Google Books review.