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Novel Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree

to be published in 2010 by Vox Humana Books http://www.voxhumana-books.com

“In these tales of love, loss, and survival, Pierides embroiders a tableau detailing the lives of a refugee family in Athens, circa 1957. The novel is set in the house of the family on Alexandrias Street, where they came to settle years after their flight from Smyrni, now Izmir, Turkey. Framed by this house — a concoction of tin, cement, wood and mud, a paradise, a refuge and a prison to those who nestle in it — they struggle to come to terms with their predicament, attempting to establish themselves in Greece. Without idealising its characters, the novel unfolds — a tragicomic story, full of ethnic colour, warm sensuality and psychological insight. The book encompasses the “Catastrophe” of Asia Minor, the Greek Civil War, accusations and blackmail, adoption and betrayal, as well as the refugees’ love and bitterness towards their country. The characters’ traumatic past and struggle for survival, in a country that is both home and hostile to them, requires their ability to tap into psychological resources of generosity, masochism, denial and ruthlessness — and above all — humour and forgiveness. In a quick-paced narrative straddling both the genres of novel and short story, Stella Pierides recreates a world within a world, miles apart from the well-trodden tourist trail to Greece.”

“…Vox Humana Books…eclectic literature with a human voice”

Soul Song, in Poetry Monthly International, issue 15, January 2010 (p. 18). [Poem] http://www.poetrymonthly.com/15 PMI January 2010.pdf

The Refugee, Winter Picture, and Mystery Train, to appear in  Vox Humana Literary, Spring Issue, 2010. [3 Poems] http://www.voxhumana-lit.com

Girl, in the print Journal  Off the Coast, International/Translation Issue, Spring 2009. [Poem]

Song of the Aegean, in Poetry Monthly, issue 150, 2008. [Poem]

Reading Room

Renee Hirschon, Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)

Hirschon draws on her research as an anthropologist in one of the refugee areas of Piraeus, Kokkinia, in 1972. Living within the refugee community, Hirschon was able to observe people’s customs and traditions, listen to their stories, and witness their lives. The fact that they referred to themselves as refugees and they were addressed as such in 1972, fifty years from the 1922 catastrophic events in Asia Minor, becomes the pivot of the book, and underpins the facts she discusses.

Hirschon was able to follow the grievances, alienation, marginalisation and suffering of this group of people living in Piraeus, and their attempts to cope with their situation by forging a separate identity within the Greek nation. While later years brought prosperity and the possibility to move out of the area, large numbers decided to stay in overcrowded properties for economic, socio-political, and to some degree, psychological reasons. Hirschon’s work focuses on a moment in time in the lives of this group of Mikrasiates, which tells a story of their continuing need for an identity and a way of coming to terms with their situation.

From the iconostasi (icon corner/alcove) to the proxenio (the procedure of arranging the marriage), to the dowry, to the seeming contradiction of religious practice with left-wing commitment, and to the surprising ratio of chairs per head, the book presents and explores a society both alive and struggling to maintain its identity. Hirschon relates a woman refugee saying that while the catastrophic events in Asia Minor and their consequences were traumatic experiences to the older generation, they are heard only as fairy tales by their offspring.

This book paints an alive picture of the people and the society it describes.

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Leyla Neyzi, ‘Remembering Smyrna/Izmir: Shared History, Shared Trauma’ in History and Memory, Bloomington: 2008, 20:2

Gülfem Kaatcilar Iren, a woman from Smyrna/Izmir, born in 1915, talks to Leyla Neyzi about her experiences of war, and the destruction of Smyrna and Manisa in  particular, events central to the history of Greece and Turkey. These events are referred to in Greece as the Smyrna ‘disaster’, while in Turkey as the ‘liberation’ of Izmir. This paper provides a unique account of the co-existence of two contradictory discourses framing the identity of the witness interviewed, as well as a wonderful illustration of shared humanity between people on the opposite sides of the political divide of the Aegean.

In a sensitive manner and with an ability to hold conflicting approaches in balance, Neyzi identifies two separate discourses in this narrative: a nationalist discourse which rationalises the events in Izmir and the ‘silence’ that followed them, and a discourse based on personal experience, which empathizes with those who lost the war and were forced to emigrate to another country (in this case, Greece) for safety.

Neyzi explores the coexistence and intersection between the two discourses while placing them within the wider socio-political context of the discussion about identity and history in modern-day Turkey.

Sources and related material to Alexandrias 40 and my Greek Short Stories:

Online

Alice James, 2001, ‘Memories of Anatolia: generating Greek refugee identity’, in

http://balkanologie.revues.org/index720.html

Thalia Pandiri, 2007, ‘Narratives of Loss and Survival: Greek voices from the Asia Minor Catastrophe’, in

http://www.interlitq.org/issue1/thalia_pandiri/job.php

Raymond Bonner, 1996, ‘Tales of Stolen Babies and Lost Identities; A Greek Scandal Echoes in New York’ in

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/04/13/nyregion/tales-of-stolen-babies-and-lost-identities-a-greek-scandal-echoes-in-new-york.html

Print

Bruce Clark, Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece and Turkey (London: Granta Books, 2007)

Dimitra Giannuli, ‘“Strangers at Home” The Experiences of Ottoman Greek Refugees during their Exodus to Greece, 1922-1923,’ in Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 13:2 (1995: Oct.)

Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City (New York: Newmark Press, 1988)

Esther P Lovejoy, Certain Samaritans (New York: Macmillan, 1933)

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)

Fiction

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, Christ Re-crucified,

Dido Sotiriou, Farewell Anatolia

Films

Theo Angelopoulos The Weeping Meadow

Costas Ferris, Rembetiko

Elia Kazan, America America

History is on His Side

This poem was written on the tenth anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death. It  is included in the anthology Dance the Guns to Silence, edited by nii ayikwei Parkes and Kadija Sesay, London: Flipped Eye Publishing, 2005.

History is on His Side

‘No,’ he said, No to oppression, No to injustice,
No to violence. Even as he stood before the guards.
The sun was rising proper in the East, blushing the soil scarlet.

Sozaboy was with soldiers, arguing with the heart
of darkness. We all stand before history, he thought, and
‘No,’ he murmured through cracked lips. ‘No.’

He could not wipe his sweat mimicking sorrow’s tears.
His tied hands tried. His crowded heart pounding with the fear
of the unknowable. He mouthed ‘No,’ just before
their fifth attempt to hang him. Who will claim
the corpse of free speech, but those with a pen
to their name? History is on his side. And ours. Yes.

It Could Have Been Love

Looking both ways, she crossed the road. Jeeps buzzed like insects. The brown earth sizzled.

“Don’t look around; keep your eyes lowered! Walk fast! Don’t speak to foreigners!” she heard her mother’s voice repeating in her head.

“Yes, Mother.”  Since her father’s death, she stopped arguing with her mother. Poor woman, she often thought. It’s no small thing she suffered – her husband blown to pieces! Rana hurried her step, pulling her headscarf to shield her face from the relentless sun.

“Miss, Miss,” she heard the foreign soldier’s call. Glancing sideways, she checked he was calling her. He was. Leaving the cover of the date palm grove, he walked towards her. Rana continued walking away, her heart pounding with fear and pleasure. In that instant, she thought him handsome! Underneath the heavy armour, behind the gun, she saw the young man he was.

“Miss,” he called urgently, and started running towards her.

“Don’t speak to foreigners,” her mother again.

“Miss, Stop!”

Out of the corner of her eye she saw him near her, his eyes cooling blue oases; and then a surprise. A stillness. She can remember nothing else.

The doctor at Rana’s bedside says the American was killed by a sniper.  He had been trying to warn her when he was hit. She was lucky he took the bullets.

She can only see the young man running towards her; she can feel the fluttering of her own heart.

This story was short-listed in the Fish publishing inaugural VERY Short Story Competition, 2004.

A version of it appears in the print issue of Another Country, A Journal of New Writing, 2005, Munich, Germany.

If Trees, Then Olive Trees

This poem was published in the Big Pond Rumours ezine, summer 2006. It won second Prize in the Big Pond Rumours Poetry Competition.

I wrote it for Tania and Jaque’s  house-warming party and it is dedicated to them.

If Trees, Then Olive Trees

You ploughed the seas. You crossed the skies. Saw the shipwrecks. Gathered
your wealth in words. Then, like Odysseus seeing the smoke rising, you decided
to become trees. To grow roots, you wrote. To grow. And while the bulldozers

work round you, while the Fates, the Wars, the Envious, the Arrogant,
lay siege to you, as they always do and always will, remember to stand your ground
like thousand year-old olives, twisting golden brown trunks and holding hands. Expand,
burrow deeper and fashion a silky smooth quilt, a glowing oil lamp, a warming hearth,
a spacious kitchen, a deep well and a cool, vine-clad terrace.

Odyssey is a memory. A treasure and a well-kept secret. Your home always yearned
for you. Your olive-tree bed rooted to the ground. Penelope with outstretched
arms will hug you. The lyre and the xylophone. The drum and the flute will lead you.
And you will dance, and dance and sing the life she could only dream of.

And if, like the man of old, you find your journey not yet over,
embark on each new voyage with zest. Plan each trip in language,
build your boats with words. Thread your sails with rays from your joyous souls.
And for fuel, for fuel employ the subtle beating of your hearts.

Dance the Guns to Silence

Stella’s poem History is on His Side included in Dance the Guns to Silence: 100 Poems Inspired by Ken Saro-Wiwa. Edited by: Nii Ayikwei Parkes & Kadija George. Published by Flipped Eye Publishing, African Writers Abroad and SableLitMag, the Anthology commemorates the tenth anniversary of the writer’s execution and celebrates his life. More information about Ken Saro Wiwa and his work on http://www.remembersarowiwa.com/poetry.htm

Poems by George Seferis

I am reading “In the Manner of G. S.” and “Thrush” both poems by George Seferis, in George Seferis: Collected Poems. Translated and edited by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, Princeton University Press, 1995.

We shall see what comes of it. Very soon!

In the Shade of the Lemon Tree

Photo credit: Maria Pierides

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

Online

Alice James, 2001, ‘Memories of Anatolia: generating Greek refugee identity’, in

http://balkanologie.revues.org/index720.html

Thalia Pandiri, 2007, ‘Narratives of Loss and Survival: Greek voices from the Asia Minor Catastrophe’, in

http://www.interlitq.org/issue1/thalia_pandiri/job.php

Raymond Bonner, 1996, ‘Tales of Stolen Babies and Lost Identities; A Greek Scandal Echoes in New York’ in

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/04/13/nyregion/tales-of-stolen-babies-and-lost-identities-a-greek-scandal-echoes-in-new-york.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Civil_War

In Print

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)

Fiction

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)

Films

Theo Angelopoulos The Weeping Meadow

Costas Ferris, Rembetiko

Elia Kazan, America America

Photo credit: Maria Pierides

When the Colours Sing – Background

When the Colours Sing

When the Colours Sing

Background

‘When the Colours Sing’ is a novel about art, creativity and destructiveness and the ways they emerge in personal, social and political contexts. Narrated by a woman in her fiftieth year, searching for her identity through writing about her father’s (imaginary) relationship with the painter Gabriele Münter, it constructs a thread of continuity that she believes will root her in the world. In a seamless fusion of fact with fiction, the narrator’s search for identity and humanity echoes the universal search for recognition, for belonging, for approval, for love. Continue reading When the Colours Sing – Background

He threw down the gauntlet

He threw down the gauntlet. First he paraded his finery, he touted his wares, teased them and then, he set a competition and waited. High up on his guardian throne, youthful, confident, he looked down at them and waited. Well, to be precise, he wrote while he waited. He wrote his stories, he wrote his articles, he wrote his comments. While they sweated and trembled and sharpened pencils and de-wormed computers. While they looked round with desperate intensity, lifting objects with words, pulling feelings with metaphors. While they picked their brains, and chewed their nails. While they read his shorts and his not very shorts, his books and his articles, trying to copy his style. He waited. Continue reading He threw down the gauntlet

Literature, Art, Culture, Society, and lots of Haiku