The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos (Simon & Schuster; 368 pages; $25).
Good writing must run in the Bakopoulos family. Brother and sister, Dean and Natalie Bakopoulos have written three books between them. Dean is the author of Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon (2004) and My American Unhappiness (2011). This year, Natalie joins her brother with the release of her lush and picturesque debut The Green Shore. They are the children of immigrants; their mother is Ukrainian and their father is Greek. In a nod to her father’s birthplace, Natalie sets her story mostly in Greece and focuses on a dark period of the country’s history, one that is virtually unknown to most: the 1967 to 1974 military dictatorship.
This period in Greek history, quite honestly, was Greek to this reviewer. Natalie Bakopoulos, though, takes this event and personalizes it. In her novel, the political becomes personal, and the personal becomes political.
Bakopoulos does this by introducing readers to one Greek family and telling the story from multiple perspectives: Eleni, the matriarch and doctor with a passion for healing; her brother Mihalis, a poet who was once in exile; her daughter Sophie, a rebel at heart who flees Greece for Paris; and younger daughter Anna, a reluctant revolutionary but perhaps the fiercest of them all. Revolution and resistance seem to be part of this family’s DNA sequence. They all resist the military junta, yet each finds unique ways to oppose the colonels. This family truly drives Bakopoulos’s story as we see what revolution will do to a country, a city, a community, and a family.
Since Bakopoulos is part Greek, she is intimately aware of Greek history and tradition. Her knowledge and familiarity with Greece make this story all the more authentic. Early on in the novel, Eleni and the rest of the family celebrate Easter. Each takes a dyed-red egg. Bakopoulos writes, “As was tradition, they would each take a hard-boiled, bright red egg and hit it together with the adjacent person’s, first the pointed end and then the round. The last one with an intact egg was destined to have good fortune for the rest of the year.” Reading this description, I could not help but wonder if the family itself would be cracked and broken by novel’s end. Bakopoulos’s use of this Greek tradition is clever foreshadowing.
Although the family is intact by the end of the book, the dictatorship has altered each of them. Eleni decides to help those people who have been tortured and abused by the government. She, along with an intriguing man she meets, opens up a free clinic in secret. This is Eleni’s way of resisting the junta. Mihalis, meanwhile, continues to write and speak out against the colonels. He, more than the others, is on the military’s radar since he is an artist and former exile. His vitriol, not surprisingly, gets him into trouble once again. It is Mihalis’s spirit that Sophie has inherited. She and her boyfriend, Nick, get caught up in the early days of the revolution. The colonels take Nick prisoner and Sophie flees to Paris.
The Paris setting allows Bakopoulos to explore another locale, but the heart of this novel lies in Greece, not in France. And it shows in the writing. As far as this novel goes, Paris cannot hold a candle to Athens.
Sophie may be away from the dictatorship, but the revolution is still a part of her quotidian existence. It is through Sophie’s absence from Greece that Bakopoulos is able to focus on how a person can be homesick not only for a family but for a country, even for a nation in political turmoil. Bakopoulos shows Sophie’s deep longing for home, a sentiment that only grows as the years go by.
Perhaps Sophie is less of a revolutionary in Paris, but only because she is not directly involved in the resistance. Sophie, though, soon becomes a revolutionary in other, more personal and unexpected ways when she is pregnant and happily unwed. The traditional Eleni must come to terms with her daughter’s newfound independence.
With Sophie’s departure from home, the younger Anna feels lonely. She turns to her older married lover for comfort, but their relationship is doomed to fail, as all such associations are. Anna is brooding and moody much of the time. The decision to rebel comes too abruptly in her case. It is almost as if she thinks protesting the junta is the ultimate way to stick it to everyone in her life. I felt Bakoupoulos should have provided more allusions to Anna’s ultimate path. However, in some cases, it is only one event or even one split second that prompts a person to resist. But it feels wrong for Anna. Her resistance almost gets her killed.
When The Green Shore ends, the military is still in power, although the last days of the junta are near. Bakopoulos shows us that, regardless of revolution, life still goes on. Lovers marry. Women give birth. Children grow. The elderly die. These are a fact of life and do not change based on political leanings or whims.
Natalie is the new Bakopoulos to watch. Good writing or a rebellious spirit—sometimes it just runs in the family.
The version I read was an Advance Reader’s Edition.