Friday, June 15, 2012

The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos

The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos is a historical fiction novel that follows the effects of the military coup d'etat in 1967. While not a well-known historical movement, or at least one I didn't have knowledge of, it devastated much of Greece (mostly Athens) for many years. A coup d'etat is the sudden, illegal takeover of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to depose the extant government and replace it with another body, civil or military. Bakopoulos's novel follows the lives of one family and how this movement shaped their future.

She paints a very vivid picture of Greece, far different from the one that springs forth in my mind from movies such as Mama Mia' or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Those deliver only romantic notions of this country with white washed buildings and beautiful seaside views. While these are still a part of the country, The Green Shore gives the reader a more intimate relationship with Greece, and by choices of the characters, Paris, France. The two countries are juxtaposed against one another to illuminate not only the struggles, but the triumphs of a turbulent political climate.

***Small plot spoilers***

Bakopoulous's family in the novel centers on the lives of four major characters, of which the reader loves and hates. Sophie, the first major character the reader connects with, is a strong willed activist in love with a very wealthy leftist boyfriend. This relationship fizzles when Sophie must suddenly flee the country and it is with her departure I feel we, as the reader, really get to know who she is without the plight and passions of Greece thrust upon her. Sophie is smart and strong, she knows her mind and her heart, and it is with grace and dignity that she reclaims the woman she should be in Paris. Her defect from the country is not selfish, in fact, it is to save those she loves. This breaks her mother's heart but about Sophie, Bakopoulos's writes, "She emerged from the womb with her hand out first. Christos [her father] had once joked that Sophie cut the cord, bathed herself, put on her shoes, and walked out of the hospital room, fully formed and bossing the nurses around." Her choices were almost predetermined and I fell immediately in love with Sophie's persona. 

Eleni, Sophie's mother, is a widow struggling with the imprint of Sophie's idealist and revolutionary father thrust upon her daughter's internal drive. But she also see's her deceased husband's passion in Sophie, which makes her proud. She, herself, eventually becomes resistant to the invasion and uses the skills she possess to help. Eleni is afraid to be a part of another resistance and we see this in her actions, her choices. "At her feet she noticed discarded “No” ballots. At first, she assumed they had been cast by others like herself, people who wanted to vote their hearts but then became afraid. Then she considered something else. These “No” votes were probably bogus, planted there to dissuade those who entered brave and proud, to show them that yes, others had also     thought like you, but see? They made the “right” decision after all." Through this I understood the challenges Eleni faced as a mother, what to do? Follow her heart, protect her home, make a safety net for her children? The turbulent forces of motherhood are alive and well deeply embedded with the turbulent forces of the world.

Eleni's brother, Mihalis, is a poet and former activist. This new push conjures up for him not only the hurt from the communist movement in the past, but stirs his desire to be a part of something great again, to take back Greece for the people.

This leaves Anna, the youngest daughter, whom I'm sorry to say, I couldn't stand. While she's touted as the young girl that finally reaches maturity and breaks the bonds of being the "baby" of the family, I found her whiney and misguided. Her choices stem not from a place of passion for her country like Sophie's, Eleni's, or even Mihalis', but from a selfish deep need to prove she is worthy. 

However, I believe Bakopoulos's point of her novel was to help the reader understand the devastation of heavy-handed government and how it pushes people to the extremes of their inner demons; what people will do when they feel they have no other choice.

I found the novel to be moving in a deep and genuine way, and I found myself completely captured by the family involved, turning each page to find out if they were safe, alive, whole, loved. The power of Bakopoulos's writing is her ability to keep the reader's stamina in full force to the end. This was a book I did not want to put down. It wasn't that I just wanted to know what happened, I needed to know what happened.  

This is Bakopoulos's first novel, complete at 368 pages, published by Simon and Schuster. While it is historical fiction, the prose is so elegant and full of wisdom, the history becomes the backdrop which propels the story to unfold. It does not, in anyway, feel like a textbook story of a military plight. This book questions many of our deepest philosophical questions, particularly the balance between public and private domains of ourselves, our families, our country. This book should go on the "read now" list. I stumbled upon it via a Writer's Digest article and I'm so glad I did.

For more about Natalie Bakopoulos visit her author page on the Simon and Schuster website:

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