Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree is a novel about identity. It asks how we know who we are and how events, as well as thinking, change our understanding of ourselves and of others. This theme is explored through a group of characters thrown accidentally together in Athens, Greece, in 1957, renting rooms in the house of the Pagidis.
Post World War II; post German occupation; post Civil War; and not even a century free from Ottoman rule, Greece itself has an identity problem. The refugees that fled the catastrophic 1922 war with Turkey (they comprise a fifth of the existing population) are both compounding the problem for the rest of Greece and bringing innumerable gains to it. Their traumatic past and struggle for survival, in a country that is both home and hostile to them, require extreme psychological resources of generosity and masochism, denial and ruthlessness – and above all, humour and forgiveness.
The mood, timing and rhythm of the novel reflect the survival mechanisms of the refugees as they, and their offspring, work out their lives as refugees and identities as Greeks. Tragic-comic threads run through the story, charging the atmosphere with hilarious ethnic colour, sensuality and psychological insight. Underneath this tightly woven fabric, the weight of history of Asia Minor, the Greek Civil War, collaboration and blackmail, adoption and betrayal, informs the minds and the hearts of the characters. And question their identities as Greeks, as parents, as individuals.
Sources and Related Material
Alice James, 2001, ‘Memories of Anatolia: generating Greek refugee identity’, in
Thalia Pandiri, 2007, ‘Narratives of Loss and Survival: Greek voices from the Asia Minor Catastrophe’, in
Raymond Bonner, 1996, ‘Tales of Stolen Babies and Lost Identities; A Greek Scandal Echoes in New York’ in
Bruce Clark, Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece and Turkey (London: Granta Books, 2007)
Renee Hirschon, Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)
Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City (New York: Newmark Press, 1988)
Esther P Lovejoy, Certain Samaritans (New York: Macmillan, 1933).
Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece: The Experience of Occupation,1941 – 1944 (New Haven and London: 1993)
Mark Maazower, After the War Was Over: Reconstructing the Family, Nation, and State in Greece, 1943 – 1960 (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000)
Leyla Neyzi, ‘Remembering Smyrna/Izmir: Shared History, Shared Trauma’ in History and Memory, Bloomington: 2008, 20:2
Arnold J Toynbee The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the contact of civilizations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1922)
Louis de Bernieres, Birds without Wings (New York: Random House, 2004)
Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (London: Bloomsbury, 2002)
Ernest Hemingway, ‘On the Quai at Smyrna’, in The Short Stories (New York: Scribner, 2003)
Nikos Kazantzakis, The Fratricides (London: Faber and Faber, 1974; 1967)
Nikos Kazantzakis, Christ Recrucified (London: Faber and Faber, 1962; 1954)
Dido Sotiriou, Farewell Anatolia (Athens, Greece: Kedros, 1991)
Theo Angelopoulos The Weeping Meadow
Costas Ferris, Rembetiko
Elia Kazan, America America