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Top 10 Greek books for Greek Independence Day

Evzones in New York's Greek Independence Day Parade
Evzones in New York's Greek Independence Day ParadeEleni Sakellis

March 25th is Greek Independence Day and with New York’s Greek Independence Day Parade coming up on Sunday March 30, let's revisit Greece through classic Greek literature and a few modern day favorites.

“The Iliad” by Homer: When delving into Greek literature, you might as well begin at the beginning. Homer’s tale of the Trojan War is blood-drenched and riveting. Fans of the classics may argue about which translation is best, but you can’t go wrong with Robert Fagles. If you prefer to read Greek, pick up a side by side translation with the ancient text on one side and the modern translation on the other.

“The Odyssey” by Homer: In this sequel to “The Iliad,” Odysseus takes the long way home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, and the ensuing adventures have inspired artists and writers ever since. Penelope fends off suitors at home while her husband eventually returns and is recognized by his dog.

“The Alexiad” by Anna Komnene: The Byzantine Empire was renowned for its high level of literacy, primary school was mandatory for boys and girls; so it should surprise no one that the emperor’s daughter wrote this detailed, if not exactly unbiased, history of her father’s reign.

“George Seferis: Collected Poems”: The poet captures the essence of Greece and Greek identity in skillfully-rendered, beautifully-wrought verse. Deceptively simple lines are charged with timeless, powerful emotion.

“To Lathos” by Antonis Samarakis: This politically-charged novel is perhaps Samarakis’s best-known book about a wrongfully-accused man in a police state. Published in 1965, it was translated into English in 1969 as “The Flaw” and adapted into a film in 1974.

“Complete Poems” by Constantine P. Cavafy: A complete edition of the Alexandrian Greek poet’s lush, sensual verse appeared in print only after his death. This new translation is by classicist David Mendelsohn.

“Zorba the Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis: You’ve probably seen the classic film by director Michael Cacoyannis, and you probably get the Zorba theme by Mikis Theodorakis stuck in your head every so often, so why not read the book that inspired it all. You’ll be stunned by the violence, lyrical descriptions, and the differences between the film and the original text.

“Eleni” by Nicholas Gage: This book was adapted for the screen, but the film doesn’t quite capture the journalistic detail in Gage’s biography of his mother, a victim of the brutal Greek Civil War, the effects of which still haunt many Greeks to this day. The silence afterwards consumed many Greek villages where survivors of torture often lived side by side with their torturers who were never prosecuted for their crimes. Gage’s return to Greece to confront his mother’s murderer is extraordinary, powerful and true.

“Little Infamies” by Panos Karnezis: The author paints vivid, darkly comic, portraits of Greek life in his short story collection featuring a cast of characters in an unnamed Greek village. Karnezis, who writes in English, has subsequently written two novels with Greek themes. “The Maze”- about Greek soldiers in Anatolia in 1922, and “The Birthday Party”- about an Onassis-like tycoon, are both solid efforts by this promising, young author.

“The Greek War of Independence” by Peter H. Paroulakis: This illustrated history is a good starting point, and coffee table book, for anyone interested in learning how the Greeks won their independence from the Ottoman Empire.

All books are available online and in bookstores, though in some cases it might be easier to book a flight to Greece and shop at your favorite local Greek bookstore.

My favorite is in Kos town, where gems of Greek literature await you only a short walk from the picturesque harbor and the Aegean Sea.

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Evzones in New York's Greek Independence Day Parade
Evzones in New York's Greek Independence Day Parade Eleni Sakellis

Evzones in New York's Greek Independence Day Parade

With New York’s Greek Independence Day Parade coming up on Sunday, March 30, let’s revisit Greece through classic Greek literature and a few modern day favorites.

Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey"
Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" Penguin.com

Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey"

When delving into Greek literature, you might as well begin at the beginning. Homer’s tale of the Trojan War is blood-drenched and riveting. Fans of the classics may argue about which translation is best, but you can’t go wrong with Robert Fagles. If you prefer to read Greek, pick up a side by side translation with the ancient text on one side and the modern translation on the other.

"The Alexiad" by Anna Komnene
"The Alexiad" by Anna Komnene Goodreads.com

"The Alexiad" by Anna Komnene

The Byzantine Empire was known for its high level of literacy, primary school was mandatory for boys and girls; so it should surprise no one that the emperor’s daughter wrote this detailed, if not exactly unbiased, history of her father’s reign.

George Seferis Collected Poems
George Seferis Collected Poems Goodreads.com

George Seferis Collected Poems

The poet captures the essence of Greece and Greek identity in skillfully-rendered, beautifully-wrought verse. Deceptively simple lines are charged with timeless, powerful emotion.

"To Lathos" by Antonis Samarakis
"To Lathos" by Antonis Samarakis Amazon.com

"To Lathos" by Antonis Samarakis

This politically-charged novel is perhaps Samarakis’s best-known book about a wrongfully-accused man in a police state. Published in 1965, it was translated into English in 1969 as “The Flaw” and adapted into film in 1974.

Complete Poems by C.P. Cavafy
Complete Poems by C.P. Cavafy Goodreads.com

Complete Poems by C.P. Cavafy

A complete edition of the Alexandrian Greek poet’s lush, sensual verse appeared in print only after his death. This new translation is by classicist David Mendelsohn.

"Zorba the Greek" by Nikos Kazantzakis
"Zorba the Greek" by Nikos Kazantzakis Amazon.com

"Zorba the Greek" by Nikos Kazantzakis

You’ve probably seen the classic film by director Michael Cacoyannis, and you probably get the Zorba theme by Mikis Theodorakis stuck in your head every so often, so why not read the book that inspired it all. You’ll be stunned by the violence, lyrical descriptions, and the differences between the film and the original text.

"Eleni" by Nicholas Gage
"Eleni" by Nicholas Gage Amazon.com

"Eleni" by Nicholas Gage

This book was adapted for the screen, but the film doesn’t quite capture the journalistic detail in Gage’s biography of his mother, a victim of the brutal Greek Civil War, the effects of which still haunt many Greeks to this day. The silence afterwards consumed many Greek villages where survivors of torture often lived side by side with their torturers who were never prosecuted for their crimes. Gage’s return to Greece to confront his mother’s murderer is extraordinary, powerful and true.

"Little Infamies" by Panos Karnezis
"Little Infamies" by Panos Karnezis Goodreads.com

"Little Infamies" by Panos Karnezis

The author paints vivid, darkly comic, portraits of Greek life in his short story collection featuring a cast of characters in an unnamed Greek village. Karnezis has subsequently written two novels with Greek themes. “The Maze”- about Greek soldiers in Anatolia in 1922, and “The Birthday Party”- about an Onassis-like tycoon, are both solid efforts by this promising, young author.

"The Greek War of Independence" by Peter H. Paroulakis
"The Greek War of Independence" by Peter H. Paroulakis Amazon.com

"The Greek War of Independence" by Peter H. Paroulakis

This illustrated history is a good starting point, and coffee table book, for anyone interested in learning how the Greeks won their independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Beach- Crete
Beach- Crete Eleni Sakellis

Beach- Crete

All books are available online and in bookstores. Though in some cases it might be easier to book a flight to Greece and shop at your favorite local Greek bookstore.