Talking Location With author Leigh Russell – YORK
Ten Great Books set in Athens
19th February 2021
Athens is the latest location fro us to visit in out Great Books series. Ten Great Books set in Athens. Athens is the capital of Greece. It was also at the heart of Ancient Greece, a powerful civilization and empire. The city is still dominated by 5th-century BC landmarks, including the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel topped with ancient buildings like the colonnaded Parthenon temple. The Acropolis Museum, along with the National Archaeological Museum, preserves sculptures, vases, jewellery and more from Ancient Greece.
‘One thing I know, that I know nothing. This is the source of my wisdom’. Socrates
Apartment in Athens by Glenway Westcott
This is the story of a Greek couple in Nazi-occupied Athens who must share their living quarters with a German officer. Wescott stages an intense and unsettling drama of accommodation and rejection, resistance and compulsion-an account of political oppression and spiritual struggle that is also a parable about the costs of closeted identity.
Killer of Men by Christian Cameron
Arimnestos is a farm boy when war breaks out between the citizens of his native Plataea and their overbearing neighbours, Thebes. Standing in the battle line for the first time, alongside his father and brother, he shares in a famous and unlikely victory. But after being knocked unconscious in the melee, he awakes not a hero, but a slave.
Betrayed by his jealous and cowardly cousin, the freedom he fought for has now vanished, and he becomes the property of a rich citizen. So begins an epic journey from slavery that takes the young Arimnestos through a world poised on the brink of an epic confrontation, as the emerging civilization of the Greeks starts to flex its muscles against the established empire of the Persians.
As he tries to make his fortune and revenge himself on the man who disinherited him, Arimnestos discovers that he has a talent that pays well in this new, violent world – for like his hero, Achilles, he is ‘a killer of men’.
Stealing Athena by Karen Essex
A novel of two smart women with the sculptures of the Parthenon as the central theme. Mary Elgin, who is the wife of Lord Elgin who brought the marbles (which now reside in the British Museum): Aspasia,who was the consort of Pericles who was responsible for funding and getting permission for the building of the Parthenon in the 5th century BC.
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovief
When Maud learns that her husband has been killed in a car accident, she is left bereft and bewildered. She has no idea why he was driving on a lonely coastal road outside Athens in the middle of the night.
But Nikitas was a man with a complicated history. With the return of his mother, Antigone, to the old family home on Paradise Street, Maud is given an opportunity to investigate her husband’s past. She will discover 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 will blight not only her life but that of future generations.
The House on Paradise Street is an epic tale of our times. Taking the reader from the war-torn streets of 1940s Athens to the partisans’ mountain caves after the war, through the ‘Regime of the Colonels’ and on into the present day, this is a sweeping tale of love and loss, and what happens when ideology threatens to subsume our sense of humanity.
Zone Defence by Petros Markaris
Inspector Costas Haritos of the Athens CID has finally made time for a holiday. But when a minor earthquake causes his holiday beach to spit up a corpse, he finds there is no such thing as being off duty.
Back in Athens, and working on the mystery of the as-yet unidentified body, Haritos is assigend a second case. A well-known nightclub owner and entrepreneur has been murdered, and neither the victim’s beautiful young wife, his estranged daughter or his junkie son seem keen to offer up any clues.
Haritos delves into the worlds of organised crime, football, and even opinion polling in his hunt for the killers. But it seems there is more than one person who would rather these crimes remained unsolved.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.
Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voice begins to weave a complex human tapestry. The more they talk the more elliptical their listener becomes, as she shapes and directs their accounts until certain themes begin to emerge: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.
Outline is a novel about writing and talking, about self-effacement and self-expression, about the desire to create and the human art of self-portraiture in which that desire finds its universal form.
Athens and Beyond: 30 Day Trips and Weekends by Diana Farr Louis
Whether in hot pursuit of a traditional festival in the mountains, a riveting fresco hidden in an Attican church, a new find coming to light in the archaeological sites of the Peloponnese, or even just a very good island wine – Diana Farr Louis has been taking to the roads less travelled in Greece for the last thirty years and coming back to Athens with ever more stories, recipes, and a deep sense of what makes the country what it is today. In this, her first collection of travel writing, Louis recounts her day trips around Athens and a little further afield, bringing together the history, mythology cuisine and culture of each place with the east of a local, and the eye for detail of a modern-day Pausanias.
Plunder With Intent by J E D’Este Clark
5th Century BC, Athens
Humble sculptor, Nikodimos, toils away in his workshop to create a sumptuous marble masterpiece of Athena Parthenos. His beautiful, noble creation is destined to be housed in the Parthenon. Nikodimos has no reason to suspect that it will not remain in its rightful home forever…
19th Century AD, Athens
Lord Quimby, rich, powerful and greedy, is enchanted by the wealth of the Parthenon. Unconcerned by the locals’ distress, Lord Quimby plunders the Parthenon of her finest artefacts. His twelve-year-old nephew, Maximilian, helplessly watches his Uncle’s savage devastation of the treasure as it is shipped off to England, never to be seen again on Greek soil.
Young Cambridge student Max Perceval unearths the horror of his late ancestor’s murky deeds and realises all is not what it seems in the Museum of Classical Antiquities. In order to locate the treasured marble, and right the wrongs of the past, Max must take matters into his own hands and confront the ghosts of the Quimby dynasty.
The Necklace of Goddess Athena by Effrosyni Moschoudi
The Necklace of Goddess Athena is a moving family story of mystery, drama and romance, while its supernatural elements will delight lovers of Greek mythology.
Phevos and his sister Daphne are time travelers from ancient Greece. Their father, a man of mystery, sends them to modern-day Athens without telling them the reason. With the aid of two orphaned siblings, who are anything but the random strangers they seem to be, they settle down in the quaint district of Plaka and soon begin to discover old family secrets. A precious finding helps them to realize they’ve been caught up in a conflict between two Gods; one is a protector, the other, their worst nemesis. Why was their family broken up eleven years ago? Will they find their loved ones again? And will Phevos ever remember what happened the last time he saw his mother?
Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis
Uncle Petros is a family joke. An ageing recluse, he lives alone in a suburb of Athens, playing chess and tending to his garden. If you didn’t know better, you’d surely think he was one of life’s failures. But his young nephew suspects otherwise. For Uncle Petros, he discovers, was once a celebrated mathematician, brilliant and foolhardy enough to stake everything on solving a problem that had defied all attempts at proof for nearly three centuries – Goldbach’s Conjecture.
His quest brings him into contact with some of the century’s greatest mathematicians, including the Indian prodigy Ramanujan and the young Alan Turing. But his struggle is lonely and single-minded, and by the end it has apparently destroyed his life. Until that is a final encounter with his nephew opens up to Petros, once more, the deep mysterious beauty of mathematics. Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture is an inspiring novel of intellectual adventure, proud genius, the exhilaration of pure mathematics – and the rivalry and antagonism which torment those who pursue impossible goals.
Enjoy your literary trip to Athens – and let us know in the Comments below if there are any books you would add!
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