Feb 052014
 
In the Garden of Absence

In the Garden of Absence

by Stella Pierides

with an Afterword  by Michael Dylan Welch

Awarded the Haiku Society of America Mildred Kanterman Memorial Merit Book Awards 2013 (3rd place, for books published in 2012). 

From the judges’ commentary in Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America:

“A charming collection… This intersection of the past and present is within all of us, and Pierides mines it well. A very satisfying read” (Vol. 37:1, p. 170).










6.50 GBP+p&p 8.00 Euro+p&p 10.00 USD+p&p

From the back cover:

In the Garden of Absence takes you on a journey echoing the author’s childhood. Yet it does so in the context of adult concerns, uncertainties, and anxieties—as well as pleasures. This book explores the existential fear of loneliness, the many facets of absence, and glimpses a path towards bearing absence and being creatively alone.

“Readers of any book of poetry can assume that each poem has substantial personal meaning for the writer. The poems in this collection go one step further, offering personal meaning to the reader. Stella Pierides pays attention in simple ways (and sometimes vast ways) to her surrounding world, noticing the warmth of a hen’s eggs on Mother’s Day, that only a dog makes eye contact on a crowded train, or in observing the tiny dark holes in a pin cushion as she extracts its pins.”

Michael Dylan Welch, from the Afterword, “Presence in Absence

Cover: from “Welsh Hill,” a painting by Maria Pierides Cover design: Maria Pierides and Rubin Eynon.

How to obtain a copy:

Print edition:

From Amazon.co.uk

The print edition can be ordered from your local bookshop: ISBN: 978-3-944155-00-5  (Germany) Fruit Dove Press, Paperback, 76 pages.

Also from: http://stellapierides.com/news/4744  (Look for the PayPal buttons up the top of this page)

- Published by Fruit Dove Press. Price: USD: 10.00 + p&p; GBP 6.50 + p&p; EUR 8.00 + p&p

e-editions:

e-editions are now available from Smashwords

(Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others), PDF and kindle

Publication information: – ISBN: 9783944155012 e-book

- Published by Fruit Dove Press at Smashwords. Price: USD 5.99

Honours, Reviews, Essays:

Awarded third prize in the Haiku Society of America Mildred Kanterman Memorial Merit Book Awards 2013. 

Previous praise for the Book:

– “In Pierides’s meditations, imagination takes center stage, as do imaginary gardens, real toads, and their negative space… The result is a welcome debut in which the reader will find much to admire.”

In Briefly ReviewedFrogpond, 36-1, Spring 2013 (Click here, please scroll down).

*

– “This is an engaging collection…”

Modern Haiku 44.2, 2013 (in the “Briefly Noted” section).
*

– “A Poetic Gem… In the Garden of Absence is a lovely little book that sparkles with a quiet brilliance – every word shines.”

Debbie Strange on Amazon.co.uk

*

– “In the Garden of Absence is a stunning book. From homely to somewhat obscure, Pierides touches a chord. Her poetry is the essence of haiku and an inspiration for many of us. In the Garden of Absence A must-read book of poetry.”

Sondra Byrnes on Amazon.co.uk

*

–“… everything, from cover to cover, the cover image, the design, the graphical presentation, the empty space around the haiku, also the introduction… all very aesthetically (one more Greek word) appealing and pleasing! Thank you for taking me on this Magical Journey!”

Freddy Ben-Arroyo, Haifa, Israel*

*

–“… I really enjoy reading it, and already have some favorites…”

Annie Juhl, Svendborg, Denmark.

*

–“I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your book this afternoon while sipping on a chai latte. A few that I particularly like are: “between my ego and yours”, “the horses neighing”, “your vacant stare”, “moment of stillness” and “shooting stars”. The whole book is really lovely… the beautiful cover, the feel of the paper and the afterword by Michael Dylan Welch. Thank you for sharing your beautiful poems with me!”

Lauren Mayhew, Boston, USA

*

–“Stella Pierides pays attention in simple ways (and sometimes vast ways) to her surrounding world, noticing the warmth of a hen’s eggs on Mother’s Day, that only a dog makes eye contact on a crowded train, or in observing the tiny dark holes in a pin cushion as she extracts its pins.”

Michael Dylan Welch, Sammamish, Washington, USA

*

–“I cannot recommend ‘In the Garden of Absence‘ by Stella Pierides highly enough. A great Afterword too by Michael Dylan Welch. … The book is entrancing.”

Sheila Windsor, Worcester, UK

*

An informative, literary and well-written essay, “Presence in Absence” by Michael Dylan Welch, first written in October 2012 and included in In the Garden of Absence as an afterword, can be read at Graceguts, by clicking here

 

—–

 

Feb 042014
 

Two more reviews of my book “Feeding the Doves“: one on Amazon.com, the other on Amazon.co.uk.

Patty Apostolides on Amazon.com:

“Lyrical and Concise”: “…well written and full of beautiful, touching, and sometimes haunting, melodic stories.”

Read the review by author of Greek Novels Patty Apostolides here
*
Dr. Joseph Berke on Amazon.co.uk:

“Feedings the Doves = feeding the soul”: “This is a wonderful, evocative book, rich in imagery…”

The review by author and psychotherapist Dr. Joseph Berke can be read on Amazon.co.uk
*

I am putting together quotes from all reviews with links here. Have you read them all?

Jan 132014
 
Feeding the Doves

Feeding the Doves: 31 short and very short stories, and haibun
Available through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de and Kindle
Patty Apostolides on Amazon.com:

“Lyrical and Concise”: “…well written and full of beautiful, touching, and sometimes haunting, melodic stories.”

Read the review by author of Greek Novels Patty Apostolides here 
*
Dr. Joseph Berke on Amazon.co.uk:

“Feedings the Doves = feeding the soul”: “This is a wonderful, evocative book, rich in imagery…”

The review by author and psychotherapist  Dr. Joseph Berke on Amazon.co.uk
*
Katie Low in Sabotage Reviews:

“…characters recall how that sad event shaped their own histories, but the tone is one of hopefulness, of looking to the future and making the best of situations that will always be imperfect.”
“This sparseness extends to the stories individually, which do not waste their limited word-count on scene-setting or extraneous characterisation; each one evokes a mood, makes a point, or charts a phase in an individual’s development without telling us anything more than we need to know.“

Read the whole of what Katie Low has to say here
*
Marjory McGinn on Amazon.co.uk:

“Stunning insight into the Greek experience”
“… each story is poet gem, offering … moments of revelation and introspection”

Read the whole of Marjory McGinn’s review here
Marjory McGinn is the author of “Things Can only Get Feta
*
Blogcritics: Daniel Burton:

“Unique and surprising, tight and passionate language”
“Every once in a while, I get a book in the mail that is unique from anything else I’ve ever read. As a collection of short stories, Stella Pieride’s Feeding the Doves has given me a new definition of what short means, not to mention how quickly a story can be told… ”
“…references to Greece and its geography and culture, ancient and modern, pepper Pieride’s stories. It’s a wonderful setting for her flash fiction, and I found her writing a refreshing and unique collection.
“Each feels like an intimate glimpse into someone’s life, a brief moment in time. And given that each is so quick, so fast, and yet so personal, it’s saying something that Pieride is able to levy language to create this impact in such sort space.”

*
Neos Kosmos Review (Australia’s leading Greek community news source) by Helen Velissaris:

“These stories manage to show universal themes entwined with the Greek psyche to give a new perspective on the Greece in the media’s headlines.
Above all, these stories show Greece isn’t defined by its current bank account, but rather the people that inhabit it.”

*
Mia Avramut‘s review on Amazon.co.uk:

“From a symbol of the divine (“A Life-Changing Story), to an object of meditation and near-worship in Syntagma Square (as in the title story), to their possible end in a soup kitchen destined to feed hungry children (“Pigeons”), doves’ journey functions as a counterpoint to the human sacrifice and quest for nourishing truths. Several glimpses into silent, sometimes tortured lives, end in haiku. It serves to deepen the reader’s understanding, and add new dimensions to the prose. And it’s a treat, as Pierides is both an archeologist of experiences, and a mistress of haibun.
Since Yourcenar and Kazantzakis, nobody has illuminated with such wisdom and compassion the often unseen lives that make the humanity what it is: a traveling, travailing organism with feet of myth.”
.

Mia Avramut is a Romanian-born writer, physician, researcher, and poetry editor at Connotation Press.
***
About
Having left Greece in her youth, Stella Pierides, the author of “Feeding the Doves”, returns to the country of her birth through a collection of stories that lie at the heart of Greek identity.
About the Book:
Greece has been in the headlines for a very long time. Recently, the headlines have been gloomy and negative, the country facing some of its most difficult years. Against this background, “Feeding the Doves” explores recurrent elements of the Greek psyche, tracing them back to challenges posed by the country’s history, culture, and environment.
The widow, the old loner, the refugee, the immigrant, the young, the writer, the expatriate, tell us their stories, touching upon themes at the heart of Greek being: Love and loss, civil war, immigration and diaspora, emigration, poverty, religion, history and catastrophe, and above all, the will to survive.

“What I admire here are the shining moments of revelation, of truths large and small bursting through the lives and memories of these characters. So many characters, and so rich!”
—John Wentworth Chapin
Founding Editor, 52|250 and A Baker’s Dozen

“Stories to surprise and entertain, to wake and calm, to wrench and elate, to tell the Greek story, past and present, and everyone’s story.”
-—Michael Dylan Welch, poet, writer,
and editor/publisher of Press Here books
*
Fruit Dove Press
Email: admin@fruitdovepress.com

http://www.fruitdovepress.com

Perfect softbound
87 pages, 90gm cream interior paper
Full-color laminated cover
129 mm x 198 mm trim size

ISBN: 978-3-944155-03-6

Price: £8.00 UK and EUR 9,00

Available through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de

Dec 162013
 

 

Feeding the Doves

Feeding the Doves

 

 

“Unique and surprising, tight and passionate language”

“Every once in a while, I get a book in the mail that is unique from anything else I’ve ever read. As a collection of short stories, Stella Pieride’s Feeding the Doves has given me a new definition of what short means, not to mention how quickly a story can be told… ”

“… I found her writing a refreshing and unique collection.”

Read the whole review here: Attack of the Books! 

The review is also available on Amazon.com 

 

Nov 272013
 

An article about my book of short stories “Feeding the Doves“ appeared today in the Australian newspaper “Neos Kosmos,” Australia’s leading Greek community news source. I am thrilled, as many of its readers are of Greek descent, and know, remember, or wish to know about the themes of this book.

Helen Velissaris writes: “These stories manage to show universal themes entwined with the Greek psyche to give a new perspective on the Greece in the media’s headlines.

Above all, these stories show Greece isn’t defined by its current bank account, but rather the people that inhabit it.”

Read the whole article here. A very interesting take on my book.

.

Oct 102013
 

Good news first: Three reviews of my “Feeding the Doves” are now up on Goodreads! They can be viewed by clicking and scrolling down here (though you need to sign in to see them all).  A big thank you to the readers who took the time to read and comment.

Pigeons on the bridgesmall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bad news? I tried configuring the Goodreads Reviews button for my website and failed! The button would show the latest reviews as they appear on the right of this page. Instead, in that space, I only managed to include the Goodreads URL!

Sep 252013
 
FeedingtheDoves.jpg

The GoodReads giveaway has ended. I’m delighted that 608 readers entered to win a copy of my short story book “Feeding the Doves”! Thank you so much to everyone who entered!

My heartfelt congratulations to the 12 winners! You can see the winners here. I will be posting copies of the book on the 26th of September.

And to everyone else: Thank you so much for participating in the giveaway. If you did not win this time, please know there will be another giveaway in a couple of months’ time. I hope you will try again.

I will keep you posted on other giveaways, discounts, and fun stuff. Meanwhile, if you are interested in Greece, its people and history, the economic and existential crisis it is going through, my Pinterest board “Feeding the Doves” is updated regularly with news, articles, photos, and other related material: click here

Aug 272013
 

Dear Friends,

I’ve listed my book “Feeding the Doves” in Goodreads Book Giveaways! There are 12 free copies (print) available to win. Giveaway dates for entering: Aug 25-Sep 25, 2013.

This is how it works:
1: The easy way: See the Goodreads badge on the right side of this Homepage, click to enter!
2: The slightly less convenient way: Find the book in Goodreads (here) and click the enter to win button there.

Either way, Goodreads will do the rest! After the 25th of September they will notify me the list of winners and I will post the books to them!

Good luck to all who enter!

Aug 072013
 

Feeding the Doves  Now available to order from amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and Kindle

FeedingtheDoves.jpg

“Unique and surprising, tight and passionate language”

“Every once in a while, I get a book in the mail that is unique from anything else I’ve ever read. As a collection of short stories, Stella Pieride’s Feeding the Doves has given me a new definition of what short means, not to mention how quickly a story can be told… ”

“… I found her writing a refreshing and unique collection.”

Read Daniel Burton’s review here: Attack of the Books!

The review is also available on Amazon.com

***

Extract from Mia Avramut’s review on Amazon.co.uk:

“From a symbol of the divine (“A Life-Changing Story), to an object of meditation and near-worship in Syntagma Square (as in the title story), to their possible end in a soup kitchen destined to feed hungry children (“Pigeons”), doves’ journey functions as a counterpoint to the human sacrifice and quest for nourishing truths. Several glimpses into silent, sometimes tortured lives, end in haiku. It serves to deepen the reader’s understanding, and add new dimensions to the prose. And it’s a treat, as Pierides is both an archeologist of experiences, and a mistress of haibun.
Since Yourcenar and Kazantzakis, nobody has illuminated with such wisdom and compassion the often unseen lives that make the humanity what it is: a traveling, travailing organism with feet of myth.”

Mia Avramut is a Romanian- born writer, physician, researcher, and poetry editor at Connotation Press.

***

Having left Greece in her youth, the author of “Feeding the Doves” returns to the country of her birth through a collection of stories that lie at the heart of Greek identity.

About the Book: Greece has been in the headlines for a very long time. Recently, the headlines have been gloomy and negative, the country facing some of its most difficult years. Against this background, “Feeding the Doves” explores recurrent elements of the Greek psyche, tracing them back to challenges posed by the country’s history, culture, and environment.

The widow, the old loner, the refugee, the immigrant, the young, the writer, the expatriate, tell us their stories, touching upon themes at the heart of Greek being: Love and loss, civil war, immigration and diaspora, emigration, poverty, religion, history and catastrophe, and above all, the will to survive.

 “What I admire here are the shining moments of revelation, of truths large and small bursting through the lives and memories of these characters. So many characters, and so rich!”

—John Wentworth Chapin
Founding Editor, 52|250 and A Baker’s Dozen

“Stories to surprise and entertain, to wake and calm, to wrench and elate, to tell the Greek story, past and present, and everyone’s story.”

-—Michael Dylan Welch, poet, writer,
and editor/publisher of Press Here books

Fruit Dove Press

Email: admin@fruitdovepress.com

http://www.fruitdovepress.com

Perfect softbound
87 pages, 90gm cream interior paper
Full-color laminated cover
129 mm x 198 mm trim size

ISBN: 978-3-944155-03-6

Price: £8.00 UK

Available from August 2013 through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de.

.

Jul 252013
 
FeedingtheDoves.jpg

Forthcoming

Feeding the Doves
31 Short and Very Short Stories, and Haibun

Greece has been in the headlines for a very long time. Since ancient times, her  philosophers, historians, mathematicians, shipbuilders, traders, and artisans have been making the news – and, indeed, history. So, amidst the country’s most difficult  years in recent times, many people believe that they know Greece and the Greeks.

.
Against this backdrop, the stories – short and very short – collected in “Feeding the  Doves” explore recurrent elements of the Greek psyche, tracing them back to challenges posed by the country’s history and environment. The widow, the old loner,  the refugee, the immigrant, the writer, the expatriate tell us their stories, touching  upon themes at the heart of Greek being, as well as our common humanity: love and l  loss, war, civil war, immigration and diaspora, emigration, poverty, religion, history,  and above all, the will to survive.

 

Cover Design:
Rob Ward, Freelance Animator

Fruit Dove Press
Email: admin@fruitdovepress.com
.
[The title story “Feeding the Doves” and the cover image were inspired by a photo taken by Robert Geiss, titled “Feeding Doves” and posted on his (sadly, no longer active) blog “Daily Athens Photo.”]

Nov 272012
 

First a confession! I haven’t read Fiona Robyn’s book “Small Kindnesses” yet! I am grateful to her, though, for inviting me to her blogsplash to write a blog post about small kindnesses.

When I look back I feel gratitude for many things towards many people, though their acts of kindness feel huge to me. Are we, perhaps, belittling an act of kindness by calling it small? On the other hand, wasn’t the offer of a lift a small kindness? Carrying a heavy shopping bag for someone? The present of a smile?

Trying to choose one such act to write about, I went through various options, letting my thoughts run this way and that, but they always led me to my childhood home and to my grandparents. Finally, I settled on the following:

My grandparents, originally refugees from Izmir (the earlier Smyrni), in Asia Minor, lived in one of the refugee quarters of Athens, in a house with an inner courtyard full of plants, fruit, and flowers. They never wasted an olive oil tin – they used these tins as pots for basil, hydrangeas, carnations, geraniums… Crammed in a small space, they had rooms for renting out, a stable with a couple of horses, and hens – all in what was then just outskirts of Athens, but is now very near its center. Though the set-up sounds idyllic, they had a hard time making ends meet, finding the resources to make a living in a city and country that had not been welcoming to the refugees from Asia Minor.

Small Kindnesses The eggs they had were produced by their hens, the grapes by their vines, the figs came from a huge fig tree. Everything they ate, drank, wore had to be looked after, grown or mended, cost them energy and all of the hours of their day. They wanted me to have a better life. Even though my granny couldn’t read, she wanted me to be able to read and write. She encouraged me and gave me the space to do my own thing – even when I went round the house pulling out her precious plants to ‘make’ my own garden, took the eggs for my dolls; or spent hours under the vines reading my books and daydreaming instead of helping out with the chores.

Was this kindness? It was love, for sure. Kindness too. She could have demanded my help in the household. Each single time she didn’t, each time she didn’t complain, but let me be, let me do my own thing without pressure, or guilt, she acted with kindness towards me. All these ‘small’ gestures, moments, day in, day out, amount to a huge act of kindness and generosity on her part.

An act of kindness doesn’t have to come from a stranger. We tend to forget the acts of kindness we receive and offer in our everyday lives and relationships, as if love allows us to take those we love for granted.

So there you have it. I spoke about my grandparents’ garden and their kind presence in my post about small kindnesses, the title of Fiona Robyn’s book, “Small Kindnesses,” which is also the background to my own book, “In the Garden of Absence.”  I hope Fiona will take kindly to this dual path. I know I will be reading her book “’Small Kindnesses‘ – a gentle mystery story with gardener Leonard, dog Pickles & a dash of Johnny Cash” over Christmas.

You can read it too! In fact, it is free to download from Kindle UK and US all day today. See Fiona’s blog with more information about it here

Jul 112012
 

I am very pleased to report that two of my haibun set in Athens, Greece, have been published by Contemporary Haibun Online: Feeding the Doves, a story inspired by a photograph on Robert Geiss’ wonderful blog “daily Athens photo”; and “The Haircut”, exploring the hardships Greek people are facing in the current economic crisis.

The actual photograph of the man feeding the doves that inspired this story can be seen hereIn fact, visiting the site to look for the link, I realise that a version I’d sent Robert thanking him for the photograph, had been posted on his blog! So, let us keep feeding the doves!

 

Sep 252010
 

How Time Dilates…

atomic clock

Atomic Clock USNO

I just read that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was shown to apply to altitude differences as small as 33 centimeters. Scientists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, using the latest and most accurate atomic clocks, found that the higher you are above sea level, the faster time runs for you.

In addition, as Einstein had also suggested, the scientists found that travel through space influences clock speed. A stationary clock ticks slower than a moving one. So, if your clock is moving rather than stationary and, in addition, you live high up, then you might start thinking about botox, moving to sea-level, or buying a bungalow!
x

The time differences at these small distances are minuscule, but now measurable.
x

This demonstration of time dilation leads me on to another, though I believe related, track. Einstein conceived of his Relativity Theory more than one hundred years ago, and yet we are only now able to confirm its predictions on our, human level! Atomic theory, stating that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms, according to Wikipedia, “began as a philosophical concept in ancient Greece and India” and only entered scientific thinking in the early nineteenth century. Thus, “time” is also relative, depending on the prevailing culture, socio-political conditions, etc., when it comes to the interval between ideas being born and their progressing to proof and acceptance. Just think of the effect of certain periods of the Middle Ages on the progression of ideas!
x

Moving on to a more experiential level: In my forthcoming novel Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree, a little girl is obsessed with time. She fears changes of plan, the adults changing their mind, things happening unexpectedly – “Can you do that?” she wants to know. If you change your plans, then time becomes unpredictable. She keeps comparing the time on her watch with that of other family members, to reassure herself of the stability of her world. Like most of us, she confuses the subjective timeline of our lives, and its curves, ambits, u-turns and roundabouts, with the instrument of its measurement, her watch.
x

On the other hand, shrinking or speeding up time, for instance through time-lapse photography, can provide us with a new, marvelous perspective on the world. The BBC has a great video on this, “Timelapse: Speeding up life” Watch it; I added it to my previous post.
x

For musings and poetry on Time, read Asian Cha’s Random musings on Time: “Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?” They claim their clock does not tick. Not even tock?
x

Perhaps this, the dilation of time, the arrhythmia of time, where the interval between “tick” and “tock” is unpredictable, or different to what our current understanding would lead us to expect, is a major, crucial point where the arts and the sciences intersect – where the subjective and objective meet. Let us stay with this thought for a minute. Stop all the clocks!

Jul 192010
 

"ArTherapy" in Gazi

At this year’s (2010) Munich Film Festival I watched Nikos Perakis’ new film “ArTherapy”.  I found it an intelligent, exciting and enjoyable film, mixing documentary with fiction.

The protagonists, young students of the National Theatre School of Drama, mostly middle-class, politically conscious and wholly devoted to their art, work tirelessly in the face of adversity in the Athenian capital. The portrayal of the young, the intensity and aliveness of Athenian life, the wonderful development of the culture centre in the centre of historic and multicultural Athens, aptly named Technopolis, made me feel proud of my Greek roots. And yet, however much I enjoyed the movie, I felt there was something missing: something about the context, the place, the area was lacking. There were interviews with a few locals, but overall, I was left wondering who was the art therapy for, who is in need of it and why? An unfair question, perhaps, or even an irrelevant one. And yet.

Of course one answer to this question might be that it is the young generation addressed in the film that needs it, the generation of Greeks facing high unemployment, debt and deficit, of a politically traumatized youth, but this too did not seem enough to help understand my unease. In addition, a more complete answer might be that the fans need the art therapy too: “There is no better time to offer your fans an artistic therapy against the period of an economic crisis and fear from the forthcoming social shock. Told in the style of Fame Story…” the GR reporter wrote about the film. Of course…and perhaps!

I followed my usual pattern when in doubt: I googled Gazi. Taking its name from the Public Gas Works, which existed there for over a century, Gazi was, for most of its existence a poor area, where poverty, prostitution and immigration went hand in hand. And then I came across an article in Balkanologie about the people of Gazi.

The author of the paper, Dimitris Antoniou, wrote about the late immigrants to the area who arrived from the 1980ies and 1990ies onwards: Muslims from Northern Greece, from the Western Thrace migrating internally to Athens. Influenced by the Treaty of Lausanne, as well as the Greco-Turkish volatile relations and tit-for-tat policies, these people had found it hard to settle in Western Thrace, with scores migrating to Turkey, other countries, as well as to Athens, whenever possible. Antoniou followed their settlement patterns in the capital, their struggle for survival from earning a living through establishing cultural and religious associations to working out a distinct identity as a group.

Five years after the publication of this paper, I cannot find any further information about the people described and how they fared in the face of the massive redevelopment of the area.

Given the importance of this area as migration destination of Muslim Thracians, I now wonder what impact development has already had or might have on this group of people. Would it lead to the complete demise of this community in the name of progress, or might there be a new way of helping to engage and support the community in its search for and expression of its social and cultural identity? Would there be a way that the arts and crafts flourishing in the Gazi Technopolis might aid the survival of this community? That could also be a form of art therapy!

(Picture credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gazi_Technopolis.jpg)

May 102010
 

Memories of home, of childhood, of life events and life losses are human universals. They belong to the scenario beautifully described in the myth of the Garden of Eden, the Fall, and the expulsion from Eden – as well as rendered in the rich, painterly iconography of this story. One might say that this story serves as one of the archetypal scenarios framing our thinking.

With this in mind, how are we to conceive of experiences and memories of losing a home, family, country, culture through war and forced displacement? A pressing question, for there are so many groups in this predicament all over the world now. Arguably, the real losses and trauma suffered by those forcibly and traumatically expelled fracture the symbolizing processes, reducing the facility to employ them in creating meaning in everyday life. As a result, these experiences may acquire a different mental status, require different resources and be put to different uses by our conscious and unconscious minds.

Frequently, memories of such losses remain hidden, out of reach of linguistic elaboration for years – or even generations, as seen in families of holocaust survivors.

Sometimes, memories of the home lost, as well as of the traumatic circumstances of the expulsion, have been used as building blocks to construct or reinforce a sense of identity and community. This is illustrated in Alice James’ perceptive article, Memories of Anatolia: generating Greek refugee identity.”

James studied the construction of the refugee identity of the Greeks of Anatolia who fled Mikra Asia, the western part of Anatolia in 1922. Up to that time, more than a million, perhaps a million and a half of Christian Ottoman Greeks had lived there, in Greek settlements going back millennia. However, after a disastrous series of wars in the Balkans and between Ottoman Turkey and Greece in particular which resulted in the catastrophic defeat of the Greeks, the surviving Christians of Anatolia were forced to flee from their homes. Many perished. Most of the survivors fled to Greece where they settled – though a significant number went to other countries and even other continents.

For those who settled in Greece, the country became their new home, even if they spoke little or no Greek. They encountered acts of kindness and generosity as well as negligence, and animosity. As a result, many of those who had survived the war and persecution in Anatolia, died. James refers to a League of Nations source that quotes mortality rates among the new arrivals reaching 45% at one point. Survivors grouped together and developed ways of coping with the losses they had suffered and the difficulties they encountered in their new country.

Concentrating on the refugees of Chios, the largest island closest to Smyrna, James quotes a refugee describing their situation, “like the leaves from the trees when the wind takes them away and they blow right and left without knowing where they are going.”

James notes that “The refugees were no longer attached to their land, and only by producing a group identity could they feel grounded.” This identity was produced through processes that helped translate the experiences and generate a distinct identity as Mikrasiates; all these processes helped recall and often show concretely the difference between the earlier wealth of the life in Anatolia that was lost, and the deprivation that followed the expulsion and refugeedom.

Efforts concentrated on continuing or preserving traditions and customs. Chief amongst these were those associated with the Greek Christian-Orthodox religion, which had been a pillar of their identity under the Ottoman rule. Christian Orthodoxy, with its emphasis on ritual and custom (such as celebrating Saints’ days, associated with the name days of those sharing Saint’s name), provided a continuity between the past, present and future generations.

Referring to Hirschon’s study of a refugee community in the Kokkinia district of Athens, near Piraeus, James points out the importance of memory for identity formation. Museums and collections or archives of memorabilia, photographs, and film were used by the Greeks from Anatolia to generate an image of themselves in Greece, as a distinct group, the Mikrasiates. By holding on to personal and cultural belongings and heritage, such as the Byzantine heritage, photographs, song, music and other memory devices, the story of the refugees’ lives, traditions as well as their loss is not forgotten, but incorporated in the process of identity formation, and bestowed upon future generations.

Beyond the communities studied by James and Hirschon, it would be interesting to think about how identity formation works in situations in which such uses of memory are discouraged, or non-existent: for example, the situation of those Greeks who fled, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to communist countries vis-à-vis those who managed to stay behind; the situation of the Muslims of Crete who went to nation-building Turkey after the treaty of Lausanne as compared to those Muslims who stayed on in Northern Greece, and others. It would also be of interest to think about other factors and processes involved in generating refugee identity, and their interaction with memory.

Please feel free to add your comments, impressions, views on these themes in the comments box below.

PS Some of these themes of loss, strategies of survival, and the vicissitudes of identity formation, I touch upon in my forthcoming novel “Alexandrias 40: Under the Lemon Tree.”