A VOA TV Feature Presentation
A family’s extraordinary past comes alive through a new book, released this summer in the United States. “North of Ithaka”, by young American magazine editor Eleni Gage, describes the experiences she recently had living for a year on a tiny mountain village in Greece, overseeing the reconstruction of a house that her family left behind more than half a century ago. VOA’s George Bistis has the story, now narrated by VOA intern Telly Bistis.
NARRATOR: The house Eleni Gage talks about in “North of Ithaka” is located in the remote Greek village of Lia, near the Albanian border. It was the home of her grandmother, Eleni Gatzoyiannis, for whom she was named.
Eleni Gatzoyannis was executed in 1948 by communist guerillas during the Greek Civil War because she arranged to have four of her five children escape to America. She stayed behind to facilitate this exodus to freedom and sacrificed her life to ensure their safety. Her story, written by one of the smuggled children, American-raised Nicholas Gage, became a bestseller book in 1982 and the basis for the critically acclaimed motion picture “Eleni”, produced three years later.
Author Eleni Gage, while still fearing the village, decided to go back and build a relationship with Lia in Epirus, the poorest region of the European Union, “so that it would not be lost to future generations” of her family. As a book reviewer put it, “she wanted to lay the family’s ghosts to rest”.
ELENI GAGE: “I grew up hearing the stories of my aunts and my dad growing up in the village and living in that house and so I wanted to restore it to the house they remembered instead of letting it just fall into ruin.”
NARRATOR: At a recent book signing in Washington D.C., Eleni revealed that when she announced her plans to take a Sabbatical from New York and return to “a village with more sheep than inhabitants”, her aunts “started streaking with the high pitched voices they had cultivated by screaming at each other across the mountain tops”. Her father, Nicholas, was also skeptical.
NICHOLAS GAGE: We had mixed feelings about it because my mother was kept as a prisoner there and was tortured there before she was executed. We didn’t want to rebuild it, we let it fall, and became a pile of ruins. But Eleni, rightfully as we later recognized, said that this shouldn’t happen, the house needs be rebuilt, to demonstrate that our family was not dispelled but survives and flourishes.
NARRATOR: Determined to offer her father and her aunts the opportunity to relive the happy days of their childhood, Eleni befriended shepards, gypsies and Albanian refugees in Lia who helped her “build a family home and a future out of the ruins of the past.”
ELENI GAGE: “I thought it was important to go back and rebuild the house as a monument to my grandmother and my family. I survived and I had a great time.”
NICHOLAS GAGE: “She embraced the things that I love and that’s another thing that gives me a great pleasure.”
NARRATOR: “North of Ithaka”, or “My home in Epirus”, as the Greek version of the book is called, “is part travel memoir, part family saga, part story of self-discovery, but above all it is a journey home.”