As I’ve become aware of the extensive presence of Greek-Americans in my own town and across much of New England, I’m surprised how little fiction has been written of their experience and distinctive culture.
They’re not the only ones to be largely unseen in American literature, especially as it has reflected the melting pot ideal of the wider society. Still, there are reasons distinctive identities remain, as we might see in the stories of blacks, Southerners, Irish-Americans, and Native Americans who were among those who gained a significant voice in the last half of the 20th century. Wandering through the library stacks, I’ve also been surprised to find so much by Asian-American novelists and African expatriates.
And most notably, perhaps because of their strong rabbinic tradition and support of erudition, American Jews have long been prolific writers and storytellers, producing many of the leading novelists of the 20th century.
In puzzling contrast, Greek-Americans, with perhaps as much as half the population of American Jews, have been largely invisible.
The Greek perspective is most likely to be expressed in the old country, especially in the works of Crete native Nikos Kazantakis, although I’m also intrigued by the Dubai-born Karl El-Koura, now living in Canada.
Here’s what I’ve found by Americans:
Natalie Bakopoulos’ The Green Shore is about life under the Greek junta.
Celebrated Dean Bakopoulos (My Amerian Unhappiness) looks entirely at mainstream consumer life.
Prolific D.C.-focused crime novelist George Pelecanos touches on Greek connections (Shame the Devil, for instance) without revealing anything unique to the culture – his characters could as easily be Irish or Italian.
Susannah Hardy’s Greek to Me Mysteries perhaps come closer.
The stellar exception is Michigan native Jeffrey Eugenides, whose father was of Greek descent and his mother, English and Irish.
His 2002 Middlesex is a masterpiece of not only the Greek experience before and after arriving in the New World but also of the frequently overlooked Midwest itself. His other two novels, The Virgin Suicides (1993) and The Marriage Plot (2011) also contain telling insights into the Hellenic influence.
The one other writer I know of who tackles the identity head-on is Anna Pappadapoulos and her marvelous 2015 Samaritans. The novel has both a Greek-American mother and an opening in Indiana, something it holds in common with my own What’s Left before veering off in a much more precarious life journey.
Well, yes, there is also The Movie (you know the one I mean). It is sweet and informative, but barely touches the surface and has some saccharine scenes that make those in the know blanch.
Do you know of any other Greek-American novelists or books to add to the list? Are there other ethnic or religious cultures who need better representation?