“Despite momentous changes recently, Sofka Zinovieff’s Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens (Granta), published in 2004, remains the best account of today’s Greece, with sharp insights into nationalism, terrorism and the Orthodox church.”
A single-volume primer? Try A Concise History of Greece (1) by Richard Clogg (Cambridge University Press), which was as up to date as he could make it when revised for late 2013.
Contrarians will enjoy David Brewer’s Greece, The Hidden Centuries: Turkish Rule from the Fall of Constantinople to Greek Independence (2; IB Tauris). It’s refreshingly revisionist about the period, which is dismissed in standard (and nationalist) narratives as a new dark ages but is here put in proper perspective.
Sofka Zinovieff’s debut novel, The House on Paradise Street (3; Short Books), is a gripping exploration of the effects of the 1946-49 civil war and its aftermath in contemporary Greece and also a good family drama.
The end of that conflict provides the backdrop for The Flight of Ikaros by Kevin Andrews (4; Paul Dry Books), reissued after years out of print, which Patrick Leigh Fermor described as “one of the great and lasting books about Greece”. An educated, sensitive, Anglo-American archaeologist wanders the late Forties backcountry in surprising freedom as the war winds down.
The Greek classics a little taxing for a holiday? Then try Christopher Logue’s version of The Iliad, a stirring, if hardly literal, verse rendition produced in a series of slim volumes over more than 40 years. Logue died in 2011, leaving the project incomplete, but Faber and Faber has recently published all the parts in a single volume, War Music (5).
The Colossus of Maroussi (6), Henry Miller’s enthusiastic portrait of Corfu, Crete, Athens and their unforgettable characters, has worn remarkably well since being written in 1940-41.
Several obituaries in 2011 of that Byronic figure Patrick Leigh Fermor suggested that Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (7; John Murray) was his best book. It’s a report of a journey by foot, mule and caique, the author’s “ramifying tendrils of digression” stretching to nautical cats, (not) shaving and Byzantine iconography.
Despite momentous changes recently, Sofka Zinovieff’s Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens (8; Granta), published in 2004, remains the best account of today’s Greece, with sharp insights into nationalism, terrorism and the Orthodox church. As our columnist Allison Pearson put it in a review, “If Shirley Valentine had a degree in anthropology, this is the story she’d write.”
Louis de Bernières’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (9), first published in 1994, is already in the Vintage Classics list. Too obvious? Try The Magus by John Fowles (10; Vintage), a novelisation of his time teaching English on Spetses that combines his usual preoccupations: mystery and manipulation.
The Summer of My Greek Taverna: A Memoir by Tom Stone (11; Simon & Schuster), set in Patmos during the early Eighties, is a cautionary tale about innocents abroad doing business in a closed community, whether in property or at the taverna of the title. Little Infamies by Panos Karnezis (12; Vintage), a Greek resident of London, is a collection of stories conjuring village life in his native Peloponnese.
Compiled by Michael Kerr with suggestions from Annie Bennett, Rodney Bolt, Marc Dubin, Mary Lussiana, Lee Marshall, Anthony Peregrine and Terry Richardson