The year is 1973 and a military junta is in power. A modern Greek tragedy subverts notions of family, culture and gender. A yiayia in a swimsuit, a blasphemous Greek Orthodox priest, a corrupt regime. An explosive epic.
Weaving Greek mythology, religion and the study of grammar, Stamatia X is the story of a Greek-Australian girl whose parents make the monumental decision to re-migrate "like birds flying backwards" to Greece.
Stamatia X, to be launched tonight at Gleebooks in Sydney, is the first novel from Greek Australian lawyer Effie Carr.
Born and raised in Sydney to parents who arrived in 1962 from Pirgos-Ilias, Carr grew up in Marrickville, which in the 1960s and 1970s was a vibrant Greek and multicultural centre. “My family, like many, did go back to live in Greece in the mid-1970s,” she says. “We stayed for a short time and then returned to Australia.”
Professor Vrasidas Karalis, Head of the Modern Greek Department at the University of Sydney is looking forward to launching a book he deems one of the most ambitious and brave attempts to define, through literary narrative, what gives self-identity and self-recognition to the younger generation of Australian writers who delve into the past exploring their roots and trying to understand their origins.
“What distinguishes the novel is its distinct narrative fluidity and flexibility,” says Professor Karalis. “The narrator moves backwards and forwards in time using both dimensions to elucidate the present and the way we are now.
“Carr re-imagines a past which is actual and factual but her imagination enriches it with the sensibility of contemporary perceptions and the emotional content of current questions about identity.”
Readers expecting to see their own experiences of growing up Greek in Australia, and conforming to the beliefs and traditions of their heritage on the pages are in for a surprise. Carr's ability to evoke emotion, cause shock and provoke deep thought make for a riveting story that will have the reader contemplating the themes of the book long after they have completed reading it. Themes such as the longing for freedom, personal identity, acceptance, and the struggle of being caught between cultures.
“It is a story of migration, of belonging, of politics and corruption and what role that plays in shaping a life and the decisions it forces people to make,” says Carr.
Carr had wanted to write this book for a long time. “The story is a work of fiction and emerged as I wrote it,” she says. “The narrative started off in a linear chronological way, but it soon became apparent that that was not the way the story needed to emerge. The past, present and future all became fluid and a different examination of what it might mean to be a Greek and/or a young girl, a woman, or man for that matter with the weight of cultural expectations, or choosing an immigrant’s life, or having it thrust upon you, might look like. I wanted to make the story humorous and also tragic. I was interested in both. It's a very Greek story. There are many and varied themes I was interested in exploring.”
The depth in which Carr has applied grammatical lessons of the Greek language to metaphors is in itself both fascinating and impressive, and it's hard not to hark back to memories of afternoon Greek school classes and teachers leading students to endless rounds of all the tenses, including one Stamatia questions- the continuous present
“Stamatia, is unusual and quite precocious, and doesn't accept blindly the cultural expectations placed on girls of that age and time,” says Carr. “I am hoping that Stamatia, as a character resonates, not just as a Greek- Australian young girl, but as a
girl in a family structure which becomes severely disrupted when the family decide to re-migrate to Greece during a tumultuous social and political period.”
“I also hope to highlight that the continuous history that lives on in the lives of Greek people and people everywhere, a "lived" continuous history is the ultimate work of art.”
Stamatia X will be launched tonight at Gleebooks by Professor Vrasidas Karalis.
Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd 6pm for a 6.30pm start RSVP on 02 9660 2333
Signed copies of the book will be available for purchase. The book can also be purchased through Booktopia or QBD Books.