There’s something about Greece’s ancient glories; her monumental contours and colours; and her characterful citizens that grabs fast to the soul of the scribe – and won’t let go until they’ve put pen to paper. For centuries, Greece has inspired countless written tributes from foreign authors and poets, moved to immortalise their often life-changing connections with Greece. From celebrated literary classics and epic travel paeans, to charming memoirs, psychological thrillers and gripping contemporary tales that allow readers to get under the skin of post-crisis Athens, Insider’s Leo Nuovo compiles your ultimate reading list of Great Greek Reads.
The Colossus of Maroussi – Henry Miller
The esteemed writer Henry Miller explores human nature and Greece at the same time in The Colossus of Maroussi. First published in 1941, The Colossus takes readers to recognizable sites across Greece as its writer catalogs his epic journeys. Take a moment to see Greece’s monuments through Miller’s eyes as his prose helps you philosophize about the spirit of Greece as it was in Miller’s time. This innovative take on travel writing will introduce you not only to the mighty archaeological history that Greece is so well known for, but also to esteemed Greek literary figures like the famous Greek poet George Katsimbalis.
The Magus – John Fowles
Suspense will pull you in to The Magus and keep you there as you find yourself turning pages through this thriller that questions reality itself. Set on a fictional Greek island called Phraxos, Fowles’ novel follows its young English protagonist as he decides to detach himself from his daily life in Paris and go teach at a school in Greece. The Magus will take you on a labyrinthine journey of understanding and mis-understanding that has confused and excited readers since its original publication in 1965. The book’s descriptions of the island of Phraxos, based off the real island of Spetses, will have readers nodding as Fowles describes the silent beauty of one of Greece’s most charming islands with intricate and talented detail. The Magus was adapted into a film in 1968.
The Corfu Trilogy – Gerald Durrell
Those familiar with the popular British comedy-drama The Durrells will love the original trilogy of books that inspired the series, written by Gerald Durrell. Naturalist and writer Durrell describes his time on the Greek island of Corfu in this series, comprised of three books: My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives, and The Garden of the Gods. Become familiar with the natural beauty of Corfu as Durrell guides you through his childhood on the island. Readers of this trilogy often regret that the series ends at just three of these feel-good books, but Durrell’s legacy lives on through his wildlife conservation efforts all over the world.
Two Faces of January – Patricia Highsmith
When the title of a book (in this case it’s Two Faces of January, by Patricia Highsmith) manages to wittily allude to a Roman god (the two-faced god Janus) in its title, you know you’re in for a complex and interesting journey. The three main characters of this story visit both Athens and Crete as they come to terms with an unspeakable deed. Those familiar with archaeological sites like the ancient palace of Knossos will be able to find places they recognize from the story amidst the ruins. Hollywood adapted Highsmith’s prose into a movie starring Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen in 2014, in which rare access was granted to shoot at the Acropolis.
Roumeli and Mani – Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor
Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor’s peripatetic travels took him all over Europe. His two books located in Greece: Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, and Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece are evocative records of his journeys across Greece. His vivid descriptions of the people and landscapes of Greece meld with his knowledge of the history of the land. One of the great things about “travelogues” is that not only do they offer marvelous historical information, they also offer a time-capsule of the era in which they were written. These books from the 1960’s are no exception and can be read together or separately. Sir Patrick’s connection to Greece goes far beyond the pages of his celebrated books. Regarded as a hero by many in Crete and in Greece for his intrepid military exploits, “Paddy” made his home in Mani in the Southern Peloponnese where he mostly lived until his death in 2011.
Dinner with Persephone – Patricia Storace
Dinner with Persephone is the product of Patricia Storace’s year spent living in Greece and provides a great window into everyday Greek Life. Published in 1996, this collection of essays showcases Storace’s enthusiasm for observing the world around her. Her ability to reflect on Greece and its people by drawing upon the past helps educate the reader in a way that is both personal and fun. This book may have you nodding your head as you recognize her writing about something that is part of your day-to-day life in Greece, or you may be surprised at just how much some things have changed in the twenty years since this book was published. Either way, Persephone is a smart read that will change how you look at the social landscape of Greece. Storace is recognized for her prose and her poetry – she won the Whiting award in 1996 for nonfiction and for poetry.
Euvridice Street: A Place in Athens – Sofka Zinovieff
Those ready to dive into life in Greece should take a page out of Sofka Zinovieff’s Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens. Written as a record of Zinovieff’s attempts to adapt to Athens after she moves to the city with her diplomat husband, you’ll sympathize and wonder at her efforts. Her records of the Athenians living around her show curiosity and a willingness to learn that all visitors to a new country should bring with them as they explore new things. Eurydice Street was published pre-crisis in 2005 (with the capital still sporting its post-Olympics glow), and it offers a fresh and optimistic gaze at Athenian life.
Outline – Rachel Cusk
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hear the stories and opinions of the people you meet along the course of your day? The protagonist of Rachel Cusk’s Outline pulls word after word from the people around her, creating characters from everyday strangers. Set during one recent Athenian Summer, this unconventional and strangely-stirring book will have you looking around at the people sitting at the coffee shop at the table across from you and wondering about the narratives within.
Blue Skies and Black Olives: A Survivor’s Tale of Housebuilding and Peacock Chasing in Greece – John Humphrys
In the spirit of Under the Tuscan Sun, John Humphrys’ book about the misadventures he had while trying to get his dream house built in the Peloponnese is a terrific light read for all those who’ve ever dreamed of escaping the rat-race to another life (as many of us here have!). Blue Skies and Black Olives has a title that might have you raising an eyebrow as you wonder what building a house and chasing peacocks have in common. Thankfully, this household-name BBC presenter-turned-author manages to clear up all confusion by the time his charming tale is done.
81 Cadogan Square – Daphne Economou
Fresh off the presses, 81 Cadogan Square (published in September) is Daphne Economou’s recollections about growing up between Athens and London. See the streets of Athens through the eyes of someone who is only just learning about the workings of the world as you follow Economou through her compelling autobiography, in another remarkable effort from the author of “Saturday’s Child” (a journey through an Indian childhood).
81 Cadogan Square was released in both Greek and English, so you can engage with it in the language of your choice.
Insider Weekly, November 1, 2017.