by Louis de Bernières
Corelli's Mandolin, set in Greece during World War II when it was occupied by Italy, documents the life of the occupants of the small island of Cephalloia, and the old ways that haven't changed for centuries. The landscape is vivid and full of Greek light. The passionate nature of both the Greeks and the Italians throbs throughout the novel and despite war and tragedy, one longs to stay inside this book forever. Winner of several awards, including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book.
"Brims with the grand topics of literature – love and death, heroism and skullduggery, humor and pathos, not to mention art and religion ... a good old-fashioned novel." – Washington Post Book World
"Stunning ... a high-spirited historical romance." – The New York Times Book Review
"Dr. Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse. He had attended a surprisingly easy calving, lanced one abscess, extracted a molar, dosed one lady of easy virtue with Salvarsan, performed an unpleasant but spectacularly fruitful enema, and had produced a miracle by a feat of medical prestidigitation. ...xHe chuckled to himself, for no doubt this miracle was already being touted as worthy of St. Gerasimos himself. – Corelli's Mandolin, Vintage, 1995 edition.
The Colossus of Maroussi
by Henry Miller
The Colossus of Maroussi is considered a travel classic. Miller journeyed to Greece with his writer friend, Lawrence Durrell, and explored the Greek countryside. So much of Greece hasn't changed from Miller's time. The villages and the people he writes about are recognizable today. This is not only a marvelous book to read while in Greece but one can use it as a guide and follow in Miller's footsteps. Having some harrowing rides with Greek taxi drivers myself I appreciate Miller's description of the "sometimes nail-biting" side of travel in this country.
"One of the five greatest travel books of all time." – Pico Iyer
"Miller captures the spirit and warmth of the resilient Greek people in his story of a wartime journey from Athens to Crete." – National Geographic
"The driver was like an animal who had been miraculously taught to operate a crazy machine: our guide was constantly directing him to go to the right or the left, as though they had never made the journey before. ...xI had also the feeling that he would drive into a ditch if he were directed to." – The Colossus of Maroussi, New Directions, 2010 edition..
No, really, you should read this before you go or while you are in Greece. There are several fine translations, Lattimore, Fitzgerald, and the most recent Fagles edition, which I would recommend. Although The Iliad comes first, I would suggest going ahead and reading The Odyssey. Odysseus' journey home from Troy is an amazing adventure story, full of passions, tempests and of course the loyal wife Penelope waiting at home holding off her suitors. At least dip into this tale. It is one of the classics of Western literature for good reason.
"A great fire
Blazed on the hearth and the smell of cedar
Cleanly split and sweetwood burning bright
Wafted a cloud of fragrance down the island
Deep inside she sang, the goddess Calypso, lifting
Her breathtaking voice as she glided back and forth
Before her loom, her golden shuttle weaving
Thick, luxuriant woods grew round the cave
Alders and black poplars, pungent cypress too,
And there birds roosted, folding their long wings,
Owls and hawks and the spread-beaked ravens of the sea"
– The Odyssey, Penguin Press, Fagles translation, 1996 edition.
Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese
by Patrick Fermor
Patrick Fermor has been described as a "cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Graham Greene." The Mani is an isolated area of Greece at the very tip of the country and separated from it by a range of mountains. This part of Greece has been somewhat protected against the headlong rush of modernity. Mani is part memoir, part travel book; and explores this area of Greece, its people and landscape with well-wrought prose. Here is an excellent book to have in hand while travelling this ever-fascinating and surprising landscape. This is a companion book to his other book on Greece: Roumeli.
"There is only one complaint I can think of making about Patrick Leigh Fermor's books: They appear too seldom. When they do appear, they offer that kindest of pleasures open to a reviewer – the chance of unqualified praise." – The New York Times
"Mani and Roumeli: two of the best travel books of the century." – Financial Times
"'You had better look out if you are going up to Anavryti,' said the young barber ominously as he snapped his scissors. He plunged them into another handful of dust-clogged hair. There was a crunch of amputation and another tuft joined the ring of colourless debris on the floor. The reflected head, emerging from a shroud in the looking glass opposite, seemed to be shrinking visibly. It already felt pounds lighter. 'They are a queer lot.' 'Why must I look out?' The nature of the threat sounded ambiguous. The reflected Spartan faces along the back of the shop were bisected with happy grins of anticipation." – Mani, New York Review of Books Classics, 2006 edition.
by Nicolas Gage
Do not miss this book. This is one of the most riveting stories of a brave woman I have ever read. Nicholas Gage, a New York Times reporter, writes a heart-wrenching story of his mother, Eleni, who arranges the escape of her three daughters and son from Greece during the civil war in 1948 when children were being abducted to fight for the Communists. You will travel into the center of Eleni's village and her people along with her son as he learns about his mother's life and her courageous heart. Believe me, this is a book you will never forget.
"A story assigned by fate … minutely observed and eloquently rendered." – The New York Times Book Review
"Remarkable … Brilliant … Unique … Eleni lives through this book. Her son has done her justice." – USA Today
"As a nine-year-old boy struggling with the English language, I felt helpless against the fact of my mother's death. It was not something that I could talk about to anyone. There seemed to be nothing I could do to make up for her sacrifice except to hope that my sisters were right, that God would ultimately punish those who had betrayed, tortured and murdered her. ...xThen, in the seventh grade, a teacher assigned me to write about my life in Greece. It was one of the first days of spring. I looked out the school window, remembering our mountainside blazing with purple Judas trees, and Easter kid roasting on a spit outside each house, my mother boiling the eggs in a vat of blood-red dye." – Eleni, Ballantine Books, 1996 edition.
The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Miller has done the impossible: written the story of The Iliad in modern prose for the reader who doesn't wish to tackle Homer's poetry. Her writing brings to life the characters and events surrounding the battle of Troy. Achilles and his friend Patroclus, as well as gods and goddesses come alive for the contemporary reader. The working of Fate leads each of the characters toward his own destiny. If your destiny is Greece, or the area of ancient Troy, this novel should be in your suitcase..
"Miller somehow (and breathtakingly so) mixes high-action commercial plotting with writing of such beautiful delicacy you sometimes have to stop and stare." – The Independent
"Miller's prose is more poetic than almost any translation of Homer. ...xThis is a deeply affecting version of the Achilles story: a fully three-dimension man – a son, a father, husband and lover – now exists where a superhero previously stood and fought." – The Guardian
"My father was a king and the son of kings. He was a short man, as most of us were, and built like a bull, all shoulders. He married my mother when she was fourteen and sworn by the priestess to be fruitful. It was a good match: she was an only child, and her father's fortune would go to her husband. ...xHe did not find out until the wedding that she was simple. Her father had been scrupulous about keeping her veiled until the ceremony, and my father had humored him. If she was ugly, there were always slave girls and serving boys. When at last they pulled off the veil, they say my mother smiled. That is how they knew she was quite stupid. Brides did not smile." – The Song of Achilles, Ecco Press, 2012 edition.