All The Little Graces is a story of redemption; a colorful tapestry reflecting the lives of a fisherman, a Greek island and her sea, locals and travelers and a lively young girl... all stitched together by a single thread, a homely little stray dog.
All The Little Graces is a moving exploration of the fragile beauties in the human-animal relationship. Set on a verdant Greek island where people still live deeply connected to earth and sea, it weaves a tapestry reflecting the lives of a fisherman, locals and travelers and a lively young girl … all stitched together by a single thread, a homely little stray dog.
A young American family traverses the Aegean into the archipelago in pursuit of four months of sun, sea and adventure––but just as they are settling into their seaside pensione, the cries of a loud dog shatter their peace.
Life is not easy for a stray here––even for one who has survived far longer than most there is little mercy. Dodging unfriendly feet and thrown bottles, Margarita scrambles to find food and shelter and fights to keep her litter of pups safe from the many perils that linger in the shadows. Her howls, while unsettling to Eleni and Harry, just serve as a Siren’s call to 12 year old Lily, and what follows in the wake of their first encounter are profound friendships, beautiful adventures and the family’s lovely relationships with not only Margarita, but also with the colorful fisherman, Vassili.
With their attention constantly pulled from the beauty of sun and sand, to anger and sadness over the desperate animals barely existing in the island’s shadows, it is Vassili’s wisdom, and lessons in humanity and humility offered by his enigmatic culture that help them come to terms with their frustrations. Hopeful changes begin to emerge as islanders and the family move together through a revealing and sometimes painful journey that leads not only to the rescue of human hearts, but also toward recognizing and rectifying the lives of the homeless animals of Greece’s streets.
Some evenings, as the sun was dipping into the sea Margarita would sit, silent at Her side while the old woman stared out to the horizon - as though trying to pull her lost husband from the depths of that which took him so long ago, always wearing the black of reverent mourning, little Margarita wearing her own very heavy cloak of despair. As the sun settled, Her gnarled hands would reach down to touch the dog, to rest on her, as if to let her know she understood her deep sorrow and hardship.
"Kala koritzi mou, kala, kala... My good little girl..." she would murmur gently. It was a peaceful time for the dog... salvation, a deep breath, and a moment away from the unrelenting worries of survival. The old woman would always leave her with a bone, a bit of bread or leftover lentils, and a tin of water and then go back inside the cottage - alone - to await the blessing of the next sunset, the next connection to a vague memory of lost life, of love and of laughter.
But it was morning now, there was no time to idle. Margarita snatched up a small, mealy bone and carried it back to the culvert, that dark and hidden place she and the pregnant one had both chosen as momentary respite from an uncertain future. She set the bone down in front of the other dog, the edgy bitch hungry and so weary from life on the run and the growing burden of her pregnancy.
The thin white dog had never known any kindness. People were to be feared and were useless to her. She had lost her first litter within their first days of life for she was discovered, and then betrayed, by children, playing hide and seek in the rain culvert beneath their home where she lay in the quiet with her new brood of sightless, vulnerable pups. Under the customary spell of the island's traditional cleansing time, those traitors of her treasured secret reported their find to their father and while the young mother was away in her quest for food, the pups were quickly and quietly washed to sea by torrents of water thrown in from buckets; a ritual purification, purging the house of its sins.
With a high-pitched plea Margarita urged the white one on... come along now... as she carried one of her own grumbling pups out from the darkness, but the tired young bitch just whimpered and hung back.
Three trips to the peninsula, with pup in mouth each time, took hours, hours dodging feet and legs and traffic, climbing the hill and sneaking unseen past the church and through the cobbled lanes and finally down to her tree by the waters edge. She would growl softly to each pup as she placed it in the new nest, a maternal command, stay still, and then off she'd go for the next.
When the moving was finished and all were accounted for, Margarita sat next to her brood facing the sea. Lifting her nose to the heavens she let out one thin, tired howl, perhaps a calling on some primeval blessing of the beasts, a blessing of the strays... pulling an invisible veil of protection down around them there under the tree.
It was all she could do.
The weary little dog sniffed the air for safety, and satisfied, shook herself off, snorted and scraped and turned and turned, and then curled up around the small mound of pups and drifted off into a restless sleep.
Beauty and Grace - Maggie McKaig
On my first visit to Italy, everything about it tantalized my senses; the beautiful olive tree and vineyard studded hills, the narrow winding cobbled streets of cities and ancient hill towns, the paintings, sculptures, architecture, and oh the food. It was mid October, and my husband and I were staying at a lovely hotel overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and the island of Giannutri. It was that perfect off-season time: the weather still balmy, and few other guests. In fact, that week the guests were outnumbered by the resident kittens, eight or nine of them, looking to be around twelve weeks old. Being animal lovers, we delighted in having the kittens frolicking around us, purring on our laps, and feeding them little bits of fish and meat. The hotel staff also seemed fond of the kittens and their calico mother, placing bowls of milk and scraps outside the kitchen door for them each day.
On the morning of our departure, preparations were under way for the arrival of a large wedding party: the lawn was being mowed, flowers deadheaded, a large tent was raised, white tables and chairs were being set up on the lawn. What was lacking amidst all this bustle was any sign of the kittens. The calico mother cat was about, but no kittens. When I asked the concierge, he replied that the kittens had been--removed. The wedding party would not appreciate the kittens, no, not at all. But where did they go, I asked. He said they've been taken, you know? We have so many every year. Think what would happen if they all stayed. We can't do that. The guests don't like it.
He looked both sadly and kindly into my eyes--and I let the matter drop. I didn't ask what he meant by "removed", or "taken". But I knew. Being a foreign guest in his country, at his hotel, I didn't think it my place to reproach him.
In Eleanore MacDonald's new, and first novel, "All the Little Graces", her protagonist Eleni, an American visiting a Greek island with her husband and young daughter, has the same response as I did-- at first. When confronted with the realization that all the stray cats and dogs on this otherwise idyllic island are regularly poisoned or drowned before the tourist season begins, a macabre spring cleaning or sorts, Eleni strives, despite her horror and disgust of the situation, to be non-confrontational. Yet as she is faced with more and more evidence of the islander's lack of compassion for the four-legged creatures, she throws aside her reticence to cast judgment on another culture, and confounds her island friends with a torrent of feelings: How can these soulful islanders, living lives so close to nature, so imbued with a history rich in culture, so passionate about life, dance and music, be so utterly lacking in empathy for the "defenseless ones"?
Or nearly defenseless. MacDonald introduces us on the very first page to a "mangy little brown mutt of a street dog, Margarita." Margarita was in fact a real dog that MacDonald encountered on one of her early trips to Greece--she's been a regular visitor since 1986-- and was inspirational for the writing of her novel. Though small in stature, Margarita is renowned on the island for being a fierce defender of her puppies, and many of the islanders have learned to respect her for that love and faithfulness she ferociously demonstrates to anyone coming too close to her litters. There is also a mystery attached to the little mongrel, in the very fact that she has a name. Strays on the island are not given names. Who gave Margarita her name? No one seems to know. So in effect, the name protects Margarita. While other strays are rounded up and killed, Margarita is left alone, for the most part, and survives. Barely so, but survives nonetheless, due to the kindness of a few, the image of which MacDonald beautifully evokes:
"Some evenings, as the sun was dipping into the sea, Margarita would sit, silent at Her side while the old woman stared out to the horizon, as though trying to pull her lost husband from the depths of that which took him so long ago...always wearing the black of reverent mourning, little Margarita wearing her own very heavy cloak of despair. As the sun settled, Her gnarled hands would reach down to touch the dog, to rest on her, as if to let her know she understood her deep sorrow and hardships."
While Eleni initially attempts to temper her natural inclinations to challenge the killing tradition, and the roots of such behavior, with the respect demanded of a different culture, Eleni's bright and buoyant eleven-year-old daughter Lily, who possesses all her mother's love of creatures great and small, has few compunctions about expressing her bewilderment surrounding the fate of the island animals. Her mother may be trying to accept and understand the great social and cultural differences propelling the violence, but Lily, with the unbridled honesty of youth, can only see the cruelty for what it is, and doesn't hesitate to question the morality.
Most of Lily's queries and comments land in the lap of the wonderful and complicated character of the local fisherman, Vassili. Vassili possesses a vast knowledge of all things Greek and life in general, a natural storyteller with a wry sense of humor, yet he has an unmistakable air of sadness and melancholy about him. As with Margarita's past, Vasilli has some mystery attached to his. Lily and Eleni become ever more deeply concerned and involved in discovering not only what the circumstances were of both their dog and human friend's troubled pasts, but also uncovering the problems that beset them in their present lives.
The book is well graced with elegantly concise descriptions of people and their places, which pull the reader right into the story. "Vassili knew when his sea would be wild, with the mirage of diamonds dancing on her waves, or calm like glass, when the winds would part and make for good passage to the northernmost beaches. He knew just when the southerly wind would blow up hot and dry from the African deserts, the "crazy wind" which drove people into fevered frenzy--or when the northern meltemi of summer would gust, cooling, but often making the sea impassable for the smaller craft."
Along with her lovingly wrought human characters, MacDonald writes with unabashed passion about and for the animals in her story. She doesn't shy away from the hard and awful facts concerning the fate of these poor animals at the hands of "the pitiless ones", and it is obviously her desire to shake and wake up her readers to their plight. It's a travel story, a love story, a dog story, and a call to action all in one. In the afterward she lets the readers know that a percentage of the sales of the book go towards a Northern Californian no-kill animal shelter as well as the Skiathos Dog Shelter, gives more history on the past and current situation in Greece, and offers practical advice for the traveler encountering situations of animal cruelty, encouraging them to not turn away, but to speak up, and find some way to help.
Eleanore MacDonald has done a magnificent job of bringing, as she writes " the plight of the voiceless creatures we humans domesticated so long ago more to the fore," while at the same time, giving us a story where lives, love and hope are capable of being redeemed--although never simply so.
Loved It! - Annie Wenz
When I read a book & I don't even want to pack a bag, I just want to stick out my thumb & hop the next plane bound for the magical place I can already vividly taste & smell & feel on my skin... I know it's a very special book!
Eleanore MacDonald's "All The Little Graces" has me longing... for Greece, & fishing boats bobbing in blue green waters, & wine & feta & winding cobblestone streets, for letting go & dancing under a moon that always seemed to look back, & for the sweet little brown dog Margerita whom I could picture gazing into my eyes & grinning while her tail wagged like a pendulum!
Eleanore has a gift. For painting life with words. I found myself loving the way she described every scene. Until I could literally smell & see & taste & feel & hear... everything! I fell in love with the people of Greece & the American family who became part of their world through "little graces", little gifts, of hope & life's blessings. I felt the joy & the pain, the struggles & the want to help make a difference. I felt the celebration. I was there!
For those who love life & travel, animals & people who live life until it bursts, "All The Little Graces" is the perfect journey... into grace... & hope... & joy! GET IT, read it, dance it, love it, live it!
A rare gem in a vast ocean!
All the Little Graces is an enchanting, engaging story of an American family on vacation on a Greek island. This is no ordinary family! This year they bring their young daughter Lily who embodies the endearing magical presence and essence that inhabit innocent children with eyes of wonder and a heart so pure. Life will never be the same in this little fishing village!
With her mother Eleni, they set out to inform and open the minds and hearts of the people in their attitude and treatment of the island's stray dogs and cats. Margarita is the story's protagonist, a feisty little stray that has endured despite desperate conditions.
Written with raw emotion and intelligence; at times earth shattering and heartbreaking, this story engages all the senses. MacDonald writes about the conflicts and complexities of the human spirit governed by tradition and the need to survive, being inspired and stretched through new friendships, and finding the strength and courage to change. MacDonald's lyrical prose awakens the shackles of ignorance, apathy and prejudice and offers not only hope, but also concrete solutions to the plight of our four legged friends. A must read!