By: Nicholas Gage
Eleni, written by Nicholas Gage, begins in the 1930s in the small village of Lia in northern Greece. This story is an autobiography of Nicholas Gage’s mother, Eleni. The story begins just before World War II and continues to the end of the Greek Civil War. Gage takes the reader through the birth and development of communism in Greece. The story of communism in Greece is a sad one; it is fostered by the neighbouring communist nations and, in the end, results in the displacement and separation of thousands of Greek families. Throughout World War II, the village of Lia, the home of Nicholas Gage, is portrayed as a very traditional and conservative community. Nicholas is the youngest child of Eleni’s and the only boy. During this time, the complexities of village life are best shown through his portrayal of his sister’s childhood. He goes into detail about how young women lived in the village at this time and the importance of marrying your daughters to a good family. This, unfortunately, leads to the reason Eleni decides to stay in Greece during World War II rather than go to America to reunite the family with her husband Christos, the father of her children. This decision proves to be fatal.
Nicholas Gage details the difficulties of village life for the family before the war came to the village. He talks about the Nazi occupation in Lia and its effects on the community. However, his book’s primary focus is on the Greek Civil War, when Greece’s communists tried to take over governance. When the communists have taken over Lia, Nicholas and his family’s life becomes drastically more difficult. From the forced enrollment of his younger sisters to the communist military, then to his grandfather’s abandonment, to the children’s eventual escape from Lia, you see all the struggles this family endures. After the children find out about their mother’s death, they must follow in their mother’s wishes and continue their journey to American to be reunited with their father, which is precisely what they do.
Nicholas spends the rest of his life in America, visiting Greece from time to time. In his adult life, he decides to go back to Greece and learn what happened to his mother and bring her murders to justice. It is from these accounts he writes the story of what happened to his mother, Eleni.
The story of Eleni is genuinely remarkable. Gage does a great job at detailing village life and showing the difficulties of war life in this small village. I found the most challenging part of this book is trying to understand how humans can turn on one another so quickly and so easily. How human beings can become so hateful and vengeful to innocent people is astonishing. This is a profound story of resilience, courage and love. Eleni was killed protecting her children, praying for a better life for them outside of Lia. Luckily, her hopes and dreams for her children did, in many ways, come true. They arrived in America and started their new lives.
Eleni was made into a movie as well.