Official Synopsis from Goodreads: A poignant and evocative novel of one Greek woman’s story of her own and her nation’s epic struggle in the aftermath of World War II.
Aliki is one of the last of her kind, a lamenter who mourns and celebrates the passing of life. She is part of an evolving Greece, one moving steadily away from its rural traditions. To capture the fading folk art of lamenting, an American researcher asks Aliki to record her laments, but in response, Aliki sings her own story…
It begins in a village in northeast Greece, where Aliki witnesses the occupying Nazi soldiers execute her father for stealing squash. Taken in by her friend Takis’s mother, Aliki is joined by a Jewish refugee and her son, Stelios. When the village is torched and its people massacred, Aliki, Takis and Stelios are able to escape just as the war is ending.
Fleeing across the chaotic landscape of a post-war Greece, the three become a makeshift family. They are bound by friendship and grief, but torn apart by betrayal, madness and heartbreak.
Through Aliki’s powerful voice, an unforgettable one that blends light and dark with wry humor, My Last Lament delivers a fitting eulogy to a way of life and provides a vivid portrait of a timeless Greek woman, whose story of love and loss is an eternal one.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: A small village in Greece, Athens, and Crete from WWII to somewhat present time
*** I received an eARC copy of My Last Lament from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley ***
Review: Beautiful and thought-provoking historical fiction with characters you won’t ever forget. I really loved this book.
My Last Lament by James William Brown takes us back to World War Two and the years following, and Greece. I hadn’t ever read anything about Greece during WWII, and the subject matter here was the main reason I requested this book on NetGalley (not to mention that cover has a haunting quality to it). I wanted to learn more about Greece and WWII, and wow this book did not disappoint. I learned so much about Greece’s history, and what happened during the war and afterwards.
My Last Lament is told from the point of view of Aliki, an old woman who has the gift of lamentation. The book is told in the format of Aliki speaking into a tape recorder, so the book feels like a conversation, as we read Aliki’s memories of the past. I was instantly drawn to Aliki and her voice. She speaks in simple words, and there is no flowery prose here. Sometimes historical fiction, or literary fiction, can feel so wordy and pompous, but there is none of that here. I loved Aliki’s voice and character, and was interested in her story and her life. Hers is a voice I will not forget, as her story is heartbreaking and beautiful, and I felt an immediate connection to her.
Aliki’s father is killed by Nazi’s early on, and she goes to live with a woman, Chrysoula, and her son, Takis. Chrysoula soon takes in Jewish refugees, Sophia, and her son, Stelios, and has to hide them from the Nazi’s who have overtaken the village. I really liked the character of Chrysoula. She was strong and unflinching, and I enjoyed reading her character. Besides Chrysoula, Aliki’s other mother figure in the book comes in the form of Yannoula, who has been taking care of Stelios’s home in Athens. Yannoula was also a favorite of mine.
After the war ends, Takis, Aliki, and Stelios end up in Athens and try to start a life there. The three begin putting on shadow-puppet plays that star Karagiozis, and the real-life history of the shadow-puppet theatre was interesting. I had no idea about all this, and the shadow-puppets brought a haunting quality to the book, and also speak to the point about how important art is, even in times of war.
From Athens, the trio then goes to Crete, and they try to find a way of life there as well. I found the sections on Crete to be interesting, but also bogged the plot down a bit, and perhaps those parts could’ve used a bit of editing. It was interesting historical detail and setting, but it kind of stopped the flow of the story for a bit.
There is a bit of a love triangle of sorts here, and usually I can’t stand love triangles, but I didn’t have an issue with it here as Aliki’s choice is apparent from the beginning. The characters of Aliki, Stelios, and Takis are all well drawn and compelling. Each has their own voice and their unique personality, and they each interested me. I went back and forth with Takis, from being irritated by him to anger, to sadness, and then back again, and I just felt he was a well-written character, and perhaps the most interesting of the characters. The official synopsis mentions madness, and there is indeed madness in the book, and there are scenes that are very difficult to read. Not because they are too graphic, but because the subject matter is intense.
The book The Iliad is referenced here quite a bit, and as I just read that last year, it was interesting to see quotes from that book woven throughout and to be able to understand the references. You do not need to have read The Iliad however. Another book brought up a few times was The Count of Monte Cristo, and now I want to read that one more than ever!
I will not soon forget My Last Lament as the characters are so well done here, that their stories will stay with me. This book really surprised me and brought tears to my eyes, along with educating me about Greece’s history.
I think that this book would make for an excellent book club selection, as there is so much to discuss here (characters, history, plot, etc). I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves historical fiction, or well-written characters.
Bottom Line: Beautiful and haunting, with unforgettable characters.
My Last Lament is set to be published on April 4, 2017.
Here’s a link to my review of The Iliad
What do you think of this book? Does it sound interesting? Have you read any books set in Greece?