The House on Paradise Street ← Back

The House on Paradise Street
The House on Paradise Street
The House on Paradise Street
The House on Paradise Street
The House on Paradise Street


“In 2008 Antigone Perifanis returns to her old family home in Athens after 60 years in exile. She has come to attend the funeral of her only son, Nikitas, who was born in prison, and whom she has not seen since she left him as a baby. Nikitas had been distressed in the days before his death and, curious to find out why, his English widow Maud starts to investigate his complicated past.”


The House on Paradise Street published by Short Books March 2012.

It is Sofka’s first novel.

It is also being published in Greece by Psichogios and will be published in Germany and Estonia.



In 2008 Antigone Perifanis returns to her old family home in Athens after 60 years in exile. She has come to attend the funeral of her only son, Nikitas, who was born in prison, and whom she has not seen since she left him as a baby. Nikitas had been distressed in the days before his death and, curious to find out why, his English widow Maud starts to investigate his complicated past.


In so doing, she reignites a bitter family feud, and discovers a heartbreaking story of a young mother caught up in the political tides of the Greek Civil War and forced to make a terrible decision that would blight not only her life but that of future generations…The House on Paradise Street is an epic tale of love and loss, which takes readers from the war-torn streets of Nazi-occupied Athens through the military junta years and on into the troubled city of recent times – and shows what happens when ideology threatens to subsume our sense of humanity.



The House on Paradise Street was chosen for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. 

Listen to the beginning of chapter 1:



The Guardian
 “‘A fiercely absorbing and passionate book'”


John Humphrys
 “A beautifully written and timely book that brings into dramatic focus the tragedy of Greece’s recent history.”


The Observer
 “Sofka Zinovieff’s debut novel is an engrossing saga of a family riven by ideological conflict and fractured by war….””Zinovieff’s historical gaze is scrupulously fair and does not shirk from uncomfortable truths.”





The Economist
 “An arresting, finely woven first novel… With its breadth of historical detail, this novel offers compelling insight into the pathologies that Greeks still bring to their relations with outsiders.”





The  Daily Mail
 “A thought-provoking, moving novel.”





The Independent
 “An ambitious mixture of family drama, social anthropology and historical enquiry.” A “broad and enriching story.”





Protagon, review in Greek
 “Zinovieff loves Greece – and I believe that many Greeks will love Zinovieff when they read her book.” “Η Ζηνόβιεφ αγαπά την Ελλάδα – και πιστεύω πως πολλοί Έλληνες θα αγαπήσουν την Ζηνόβιεφ όταν διαβάσουν το βιβλίο της.”





Cressida Connolly
 “I can’t remember when I was so totally absorbed by a book… Enthralling, moving and wise.”



Vesna Goldsworthy, Author of ‘Chernobyl Strawberries’
 “That rare thing: a beautifully written novel which is a great read. It is also a compelling guide to the last sixty years of Greek history at this very troubled time for Europe and for all of us.”



The Spectator
“… what gives the book true readability is the sense of place. Zinovieff’s portrayal of Greece is beautiful and believable, engaging all the senses.”

Charlotte Moore



Kathimerini – review in Greek. “Οι στοιχειωμένες πληγές του Εμφυλίου. Από μια Αγγλίδα που ζει στην Ελλάδα”
 “Scenes from the [Nazi] occupation, the resistance, the prisons and exiles, the dilemmas of the era, the role of the British, the consequences of the Civil War, the connection of one generation with the next and the problems of today’s youth… the author’s penetrating perspective keeps the reader’s interest undiminished until the end.”





The Newtown Review of Books
 “The House on Paradise Street is a moving story of a family, of the brutal toll of history and of the spark of political engagement that offers promise as well as peril. It is a fascinating human story and one that provides a valuable window into contemporary Greece.”





Fleur Fisher
 “It’s a big story, full of history, full of humanity, full of change, and yet it is always lucid, always compelling. It gave me some understanding of what it might be live through occupation and civil war, how families can be torn about, how so much can be lost, how the past inevitably shapes the present… And it brought Greece to life: the food, the streets, the climate, the communities, the politics… It is the characters that make the story sing: intriguing, fallible, utterly believable human beings.”





RTÉ – Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcaster
 “Athens-based writer Sofka Zinovieff explores the tragic rupture in a Greek family, as two sisters, Alexandra and Antigone become alienated under the Nazis.”





The Book Bag
“A death in the 21st century reignites a sixty-year-old family feud. It’s a good story and will also give the reader a lot to think about in terms of how Greece is now. Recommended.”

“Mία ζοφερή υπενθύμιση για την κακομεταχείριση των Ελλήνων αριστερών μετά το τέλος του δευτέρου παγκοσμίου πολέμου και για τις καταστροφικές συνέπειες στο υπόλοιπο του 20ού αιώνα για την Ελλάδα.”


For Book’s Sake

“The House on Paradise Street is set in Athens, where an English-born researcher, Maud Perifanis, lives with her journalist husband, Nikitas, their teenage daughter Tig and stepson, Orestes, in an apartment above the childhood home of Nikitas’s aunt, Alexandra. When Nikitas died in a car crash in 2008, Maud contacted his mother, Antigone, who left him behind as a child for life in Soviet Russia. Her return to Athens, and the yielding of long-held secrets, forms the other half of a dual narrative.”


Extract from Chapter 1


The day Nikitas died, his aunt came to speak to me in the evening. I was lying alone in my room as a muffled orange twilight gave way to darkness. The sounds of the Athenian night were familiar: neighbourhood dogs; mopeds whining up the hill; and the hum of traffic. Alexandra sat taut and upright on my rumpled bed, her tailored mourning clothes giving her the incongruous look of a raven landed in a laundry basket. I lay there, breathing in the naphthalene, watching her make automatic smoothing movements on the sheets. Her hand was speckled with age spots and a gold wedding ring held her husband’s looser band in place. Now I was a widow too.


Alexandra took a breath before she spoke.


“There’s something you need to do. You should contact your mother-in-law.” I looked at her blankly, not understanding. Petherá: the very word sounded foreign, never used in relation to me before.


“Nikitas’ mother. Antigone. She should learn what happened.” Her speech emerged awkwardly, staccato. Aunt Alexandra normally succeeded in ignoring the existence of her younger sister, though occasionally, if she was particularly annoyed or upset by Nikitas, she would compare him to his mother.
“The apple falls under the apple tree. You can never get away from that.” Too much time had gone by to speak of Antigone casually; it was almost sixty years since she had left. And she had never returned. Fixed in time as the young woman who had walked away and didn’t look back, she had become in her absence the family’s black hole, sucking emotions inwards and giving nothing back. The knowledge that she was still alive was worse than if she had died. It implied the continuation of insult and rejection.
When I first knew Nikitas, I was intrigued by the drama of his infancy. He showed me a framed photograph of his mother as a young woman. Taken from a low camera angle, the picture presents a heroine, with eyes gazing out to a victorious horizon. She is dressed in military uniform, but it is her face that is compelling: generous lips, resolutely straight eyebrows and long, dark hair falling unrestrained, like a contemporary teenager. There was undeniably a tragic grandeur in Antigone’s appearance, but also in the lack in compromise in her life; what could bring someone to abandon her young child and leave her country for ever? Initially, as an outsider, a foreigner, in this family, I appreciated the idea of Antigone the rebel.


Later, however, especially after Tig was born, I became enough of an insider to change my opinion. There could be no excuse for this stubborn old woman who had never cared enough to come back and see those she had left behind. Now that her son was dead, what could there be to say?


A note on the research for the book


A few years ago, some cousins of my husband, Vassilis, told us about a ritual they had recently carried out for a family member. Their aunt, Sophia Vlachou, was born in Dikastro, the same mountain village as Vassilis’ father (a place with many similarities to “Perivoli” in The House on Paradise Street). As a young woman, Sophia was active in the resistance during the German occupation. Soon after the war, her partisan husband was executed, and following the Civil War, she went into exile in Romania. For many years, her family didn’t know what had become of her, but in 1962 they got word that she had died, having suffered badly from her war injuries. They were unable to go to her funeral and it was not until over forty years later that her family brought her remains back from Bucharest. They placed her bones in a beautiful wooden box, organised a priest to make a blessing in the cemetery in Dikastro, and laid her to rest permanently in the ossuary there.


This incident moved me and re-kindled my interest in the legacy of the Greek Civil War. I had first become aware of its significance when I was an anthropology student doing research in the Peloponnese. I read Kevin Andrews’ wonderful book, The Flight of Icaros, about his travels in a country devastated by war and then ground into despair by hatred and suspicion.


Although many decades have passed since those dreadful years, Greeks are still affected by what happened. Some of the problems at the root of the current economic crisis and the intensity of the street protests as a reaction, can be linked back to the oppressive regimes that dominated Greece for so long. Families still carry painful memories of the Colonels’ Junta (1967-74), and for many, this dictatorship was a repeat of what had happened in the 1940s; the same people went back to prison or into exile.


If Sophia Vlachou provided some of the inspiration for Antigone, many other people also contributed elements to what became her story. My aunt by marriage, Xanthe Papadimitriou, told me about her life in Athens before the war. Her family was not unlike Antigone’s, with its comfortable house, good food, servants and high educational aspirations. The shock of losing everything during the war was deeply felt, and Xanthe described the endless search for food, the negotiations with black-marketeers and the increasing presence of death and starvation on the streets.


“We younger children would go and write slogans on walls,” she said. “We were told by the older ones what to write: Down with Germans! Or, Italians – Traitors!”


“If the police caught anyone they’d beat them black and blue, but it was more serious if you were older.”


For some women I spoke to, the experiences after the war were even worse than during the occupation. Poppy Voliotou, now in her mid-eighties, lives on her own in a small apartment in Exarchia, central Athens. Everything there is orderly, down to the label for “hand towel” in the bathroom, and the plastic bowl in the basin to save and recycle water. I wondered if she had learned these habits as a prisoner, as she spent many years in Averoff Prison, which stood not far from her current home. A village girl who was married at sixteen, Poppy was put on trial for helping the partisans, and was only spared a death sentence because she was pregnant. Her baby was born with prison guards outside the hospital room and she eventually had her two older children brought to live with her in prison as there was nobody else to care for them. Poppy told me horrific stories about her experiences in Averoff, about women who were pregnant following rape, about a grandmother and her twelve-year-old granddaughter in jail for handing out pro-partisan leaflets. But she also described the camaraderie of this unusual community of women and children, and her energy and optimism and her small, wiry frame all contributed to the character of Dora.


When I met the late Maria Beikou, I was amazed by how much about her life corresponded with what I had envisaged for Antigone. As an attractive, intelligent university student, she had “gone to the mountains” aged eighteen and fought in the resistance. After the Civil War she travelled to Tashkent and she ended up as an announcer on the radio station in Moscow. Unlike Antigone, Maria returned to Greece after the end of the Junta, in 1975. At the time I interviewed her, she was finishing a book about her life and participating in a theatre production of Mauser by the German playwright Heiner Muller, organised by the experimental director Theodoros Terzopoulos. She was eighty-three.


“I was never a fanatical communist,” she said, despite having been the Greek voice of communism on Moscow Calling for many years. “But I think people will go back to Marx. After the fall of communism I didn’t lose my life. What remained was comradeship, knowledge…” Sadly, she died in 2011, aged eighty-five, but remained active to the end.


Foreign Editions


Greece Estonia USA Germany
Το σπίτι στήν οδό
Maja Paradiisi Tanaval The House on Paradise Street Athen, Paradiesstraße
Εκδόσεις Ψυχογιός Tänapäev Simon and Schuster 
Atria Books/Marble Arch Press
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