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This memoir/testimonial is divided into 5 chapters and an epilogue that braid recurring and overlapping themes of cultural identity, multiple belongings and exclusions. Built around a particular experience (applying for a University position, buying an island house, negotiating Athens traffic), each chapter addresses the speaker’s changing relationship to Greece, beginning with an introduction to the culture through the lives of the speaker’s paternal grandparents. The narratives become cumulative stories of initiation into modern Greek culture as the speaker’s ‘broken Greek’is the language by which she negotiates clashing orientations to her bi-cultural world and tries to understand how and where she belongs.
Broken Greek: A Language to Belong
Plain View Press (2006)
Reviewed by for Reader Views (8/06)
“Broken Greek” is truly an inside view of the real Greece. As both an 'outsider' and 'one of them', author Adrianne Kalfopoulou gives a unique look at Greece and all of its glory or sometimes lack of glory. Showing the true side of a country that so many visualize as romantic and historical, she creates a rapport with the people of Greece as only a true native can. As both Greek and American, she sometimes gets a much different attitude than a typical tourist would get as she decides to change her life and hopes to no longer be viewed as a 'xeni' (foreign) person. As she pushes through a system that is truly different than anything she experienced in America, she realizes the need to be considered 'one of them' as the entire system seems to be based on who you know and not what you know. Applying for a teaching position at a university, her application is over looked simply based on the fact that a less knowledgeable person knows the right people to obtain the position even though she is truly not qualified. Putting up a fight, Adrianne takes on the system to prove a point.
Becoming 'one of them' means not only learning the system and how it operates but learning how to live amongst the people and learning their ways. What most Americans might consider to be a completely obsolete way of thinking, Adrianne quickly learns that much of the time business transpires based upon trust and one's own word, as opposed to legal papers and contracts. When she cannot afford to have the dream home she purchased with her life savings renovated all at once, many of the tradesmen are content with payments 'as she can make them', with no written contract. One of the factors that makes her realize she is becoming 'one of them'.
Throughout the book you see the subtle changes occurring as she begins her life living with her grandparents and ends the story as someone who truly is a Greek, living in a small town with her daughter. She becomes 'one of them' with slow changes in her lifestyle that she later realizes is something that gives her an inner peace. While she still finds that she must sometimes fight the system, she also learns that perhaps 'traditional ways' aren't always bad, even if they do seem a bit backwards compared to the life style she had in America.
As she and her daugher take a vacation back to the United States, she realizes as she puts up with a complete culture shock, that the transformation is complete and she now feels like an outsider in the country she grew up in. Both she and her daughter seem to long for what they now consider home, the country of Greece.
Beautiful and poignant, the story transforms a stereotype of the Greek people into a real look at their lives and actions. Sharing everything from the way the government handles jobs to how neighbors help each other, you realize the importance of belonging in this beautiful country of tradition. Sharing old fashioned ways and means, the author comes to realize that the real Greece is nothing like the Greece many are introduced to as tourists. Creating friendships that are built on honesty and trust, she comes to grips with her true roots as she shares the many facets of being Greek with the reader.
If you don't come away from reading this book longing for a taste of days gone by and perhaps wondering if our more 'modern' world might not be as wonderful as we're told it is, I would be surprised. It not only shares the outer beauty of a country that is grand, but shares the inner beauty of a people who are often just as grand.
A great read for anyone interested in finding out the inside view of Greece and its people. And the scatterings of Greek words along the way can help you out a bit when you decide that Greece is definitely going to have to be on your list of vacation sites. Perhaps with this book, you will realize that to see the true Greece and it's people, you don't have to take the tour bus.