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Nine Great Books set in GREECE, curated by Linda Lappin

8th June 2023

NINE GREAT BOOKS set in GREECE, curated by author Linda Lappin.    

Nine Great Books set in GREECE


List curated by author Linda Lappin

Greece is our ancestral home– we were born to its sun, sea, and islands – to its penchant for speculation, exploration, philosophy, and myth – its relentless searching for the essence of things, and its celebration of the mind, body, and senses. A trip to Greece is a journey to your origins. Whether you’re heading for a Greek island this summer, planning a cruise, or just hanging out on your sundeck, these reads will keep you longing and dreaming for more.


Nine Great Books set in GREECEProspero’s Cell by Lawrence Durrell:  Travel memoir set in CORFU 1930s

Assembled from a diary kept from 1935-1939, this lush, lyrical account of Durrell’s stay on Corfu depicts Greek village life with authentic atmospheres, memorable characters, and intriguing evening conversations lit by lanterns and fireflies.

 This is the first of Durrell’s many books celebrating the delicious disease he once described as “islomania”:  “A rare but by no means unknown affliction of the spirit.” “There are people” he claims “who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication.”  Reading Durrell’s sensuous prose, you’ll find yourself sharing his delightful intoxication – but with a certain poignancy. The idyll ended with the coming of World War 2 when Durrell escaped with his wife and daughter by caique to Alexandria, Egypt.  But that’s another story….

(See The Alexandria Quartet)

The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller:  Travel memoir across Greece in the late 1930s

A paean to the landscapes, people, and light of Greece. Ranked by travel-writer Pico Iyer as among the top five travel books of all time.

Miller sets out to join his friend Larry Durrell on Corfu and discovers a rough land steeped in sunlight and blessed by the gods. “The light of Greece opened my eyes, penetrated my pores, expanded my whole being,”he writes.  Throughout his explorations and misadventures accompanied by Greek writer George Katsimbalis, Miller finds in the simplicity of Greek life an antidote for the soul-destroying materialism of modernity which has brought the world once again to the brink of war. He writes: “To be silent the whole day long, see no newspaper, hear no radio, listen to no gossip, be thoroughly and completely lazy, thoroughly and completely indifferent to the fate of the world is the finest medicine a man can give himself. “ Although much of the book focuses on raconteur and viveur Katsimbalis,  aka the “Colossus,” many critics believe Miller was really writing about himself.  He considered The Colossus of Maroussi his best book. 

Nine Great Books set in GREECEThe Magus by John Fowles:  Suspense, literary fiction, set on a fictitious island inspired by Spetses, set in the early 1960s

The story is told from the perspective of Nicholas Urfe, a British graduate student who, after jilting his girlfriend, takes a job teaching English in a boy’s boarding school on a remote Greek island. In a lonely landscape of uncanny silences and blazing sunlight, he soon becomes morose and suicidal until he makes a new friend, the wealthy musician and art-collector Maurice Conchis.  Conchis, a master trickster and psychopomp, will lead Urfe to a deeper, unsettling knowledge of himself through a series of masques, perverse psychological games, and deceptions. The reader must toe the line between reality and illusion as Nicholas does in this haunting, addictive read, a masterpiece of postmodern metafiction. Fowles revised the ending in later editions to readers’ delight and puzzlement.  Often listed by critics among the top 100 novels ever written.


The Greek House by Christian Brechneff with Tim Lovejoy:  LBGQT travel memoir, set on Sifnos, 1970-2000

It’s 1972 and the twenty-one year old artist author arrives on the island of Sifnos in the Cyclades in search of himself.  On this primitive, far-flung island, where not even ferries can dock and roads are little more than goat trails, he sloughs off his previous self, and discovers a rich, new, and rewarding sexual identity. Energized by his impressions of island life, he buys a series of rustic whitewashed buildings and over three decades transforms them into a dream home and studio where his talents bloom. Eventually, he outgrows this soul place, finding it has changed too much with the influx of tourism, while he needs new spaces for inspiration. A fascinating study of how place shapes identity and creativity.

Nine Great Books set in GREECEHoney, Olives, and Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table by Christopher Bakken: A food and travel memoir

Bakken, a poet and university professor of creative writing, leads the reader on a lyrical tour of Greek cuisine – from foraged greens, freshly caught octopus, wild thyme honey,  showing us how Greek food is produced, procured, prepared, and eaten – always in congenial company  and always generously accompanied with wine. From kitchen to kitchen, and island to island we go in search of bread made with wild yeast, tender grilled octopus, perfect oven roasted chickpeas, stinky goat cheeses, and raki guaranteed to knock your socks off. These excursions are not without risk – he is nearly swept away when a mountain trail washes out in the pouring rain, and almost drowns when a sudden current swirls up while he is diving for grouper. Everywhere he finds food that is fresh, essential, economical and often available in the wild.  Much of the memoir is set in the midst of Greece’s debt crisis, and the author reflects on the virtues of peasant food “shaped by scarcity and consequent frugality” – delicious and satisfying, founded on the humble, vegan legumes that have carried the Greek people through the worst periods of political turmoil.  Recipes are included which readers can make at home.  The author acknowledges in his preface Patience Gray’s  food writing classic  Honey From a Weedas an inspiration for this book.

Broken Greek by Adrianne Kalfopoulou: Memoir, set in Athens in 2000s

Adrianne Kalfopoulou moves to Athens to reconnect with her roots and raises a daughter there.  Immediately she is immersed in the chaotic tangle of Greek life and the orderly labyrinth of the Greek language, which at first she speaks only imperfectly, especially when deeply stressed – which in Athens happens often. She comes to see that there is a fragile order in the chaos, based on a mutual making way for each other, an attitude so different from the American ideal in which society functions as long as everyone follows the rules and keeps to themselves. Am I American or Greek? And can I be both? –she asks. There is a passionate humanism in this memoir. And you will also learn why Greeks drive the way they do.


The Great Chimera by M. Karagatsis. TR: Patricia Felisa Barbeito:  Postmodern, literary fiction set on Syros, Early 20th Century

In this classic modern Greek novel set in the early 20th century, Marina, a lovely young French woman estranged from her mother, falls in love with a Greek sea captain and follows him to the island of Syros. Her enlightened lifestyle and intellectual aspirations clash with her stern mother-in-law’s expectations. The story is told from Marina’s point of view, providing deep glimpses into her interior life. When disaster strikes her husband’s shipping company, the family fortunes crumble, tragedy occurs, and Marina descends into madness. Adapted for recent TV and theater productions, The Great Chimera is defined as a Modern Greek tragedy, with multiple links to the narrative experiments of early twentieth-century European literature. Now available in an award-winning translation by Patricia Felisa Barbeito.

Nine Great Books set in GREECEThe Potter’s House by Rosie Thomas: Women’s fiction, fantasy, set on a fictitious Greek Island in 2000

The author has combined a woman’s transformational journey with gothic elements to tell a story that weaves from realism to the fantastic.  Seeking solace in travel after a painful divorce, Kitty, a sophisticated London tourist, escapes death when a powerful earthquake devastates the resort where she has been staying.  Alone and in shock, she is taken aboard a smugglers’ boat and left on a remote Greek island, where she finds shelter at the home of an Englishwoman married to a local man.  Outstaying her welcome, she soon destabilizes relationships in the village.  The two Englishwomen grow to resemble each other day by day – Kitty, the mysterious stranger begins to have paranormal visions of ghostly villagers of previous times.  The ending is pure gothic – a wonderful beach read that will keep you guessing till the end, and beyond. The biblical reference in the title may just be the key to the meaning. Before a clay pot is fired, it may be refashioned over and over to make a new one.

The Island by Victoria Hislop: Historical fiction; women’s fiction set on Crete, 1930-present

This brilliantly researched, multigenerational novel describes the heroine’s search for her origins, which leads her to Spinalonga, the last leper colony in Greece. Spanning several decades from 1930 to the present day, the story focuses on two sisters, rivals in love, whose lives are changed forever when one discovers she has leprosy on the eve of her wedding day. The contemporary protagonist, Alexis,  discovers her own link to the leper colony while visiting family on Crete and unearths long buried secrets.  Hislop depicts in great detail the grim existences of those who were interned on the island and the shame and grief borne by their families.  Pack some tissues along with your beach towel. This is a tear jerker and page turner packed with fascinating historical detail.

Thank you to LINDA LAPPIN for this wonderfully inspirational list

Linda is the author of Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne and The Soul of Place: A Creative Writing Workbook.

Connect with Linda via her webpage / Twitter @LindaLappin1 / Facebook @LindaLappinAuthor / YouTube @LLItaly / Blogging @magiclibrarybomarzo  

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