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What to read before Greece trip

I am traveling to Greece with a group from church. Many of us want to read some novels about Greece, particularly historical novels. Reading Rick's book of course, too, but we want some fiction. Any suggestions?

Posted by
16857 posts

I don't have Rick's guide book to Greece, but there are usually lists of related books and films in the back. Lo and behold, there are lists right on this website! Recommended books and movies

Edited to add: I'm currently reading an old Rough Guide to Britain, and it has a very nice suggested-reading list. You could visit your local library and take notes from the Greece guide book or look for a used copy online.

Posted by
5817 posts

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. It’s about an English family in Corfu in the 1930s so not “Greek Greek” but a lovely read.

The Stephen Fry books on Greek mythology, “Mythos” and “Heroes” are also both worth a look.

Posted by
2416 posts

There are some wonderful and historically authentic novels, but not about ancient Christianity, fi that's what you are after. If you want a real time-travel back into Classical-era Greece and before --- look to Mary Renault. Her books came out in the 50s 60s, and are timeless, and enthralling. Highly regarded by hsitorians, and all received starrred reviews when they came out. . Available in paperbacks new & used, on Amazon or in good-quality trade bookstores & Used bookstores. In each novel, after the last page, there a small section , where she explains the sources & research be hind it. Some titles:

• THE KING MUST DIE - Her most Famous book. Based on legend of Theseus, the world of Ancient Crete, the minotaur, the captives from Athens -- its all here -- love, death, bravery, an absolute page-turner.... and in the process, without realizing, you'll understand the ancient customs, rituals, and beliefs.
• THE LAST of the WINE - the amazing world of Athens in its Golden Age, just at the start of the Pelopponesian Wars
• The MASK of APOLLOS - told thru eyes of young island boy who was stage-struck and followed an acting troupe in the 4th C BC, makes u understand the birth of drama for that world and ours.
• The PRAISE SINGER -- Another youth, who became famous in the era before anything was written, reciting the great Iliad,etc at banquets of tyrants ...

There are a lot of novels with titles like Starlight over Santorini, but those are romance novels with a fake greek setting. There are also some novels about Medieval Rhodes & the battles with the Saracens etc, but avoid them, they're swashbucklers about the crusades which are romanticized & inaccurate.

Posted by
4822 posts

It really depends on where you might be going and what you are planning on seeing. So rather than specific items, some broad themes to try to get a grip of:

  • Basic Golden Age Greek history, the high points of Athens, Sparta, and Greek culture. This is a big area to cover, but understanding the interaction of the city-states, role of worship of gods and major deities, and the major enemies of the Greeks will make any temple or ancient site much more meaningful.
  • Food to me is a major reason for travel, spend some time with a Greek picture cookbook or looking at menus then searching for what the heck that thing is. Makes sitting down at a restaurant much more enjoyable when you can interpret the menu.
  • Little understood, but critical to understanding the Greeks today is having a sense of the period from roughly the downfall of the Ottoman Empire to post WW2. It is a story of poverty, civil war, occupation, and independence.
  • While maybe the point of your tour may be some early Christian sites? I would also try to get an understanding of the Greek Orthodox Church and traditions. It is really a fascinating aspect of Christianity and would be meaningful to any Church group to understand and interact with.
Posted by
13972 posts

It's not a novel but it reads like one - Persian Fire by Tom Holland. I know it doesn't sound like it's about Greece, but it is about the struggles between Persia and ancient Greece, and dives deep into the culture of Athens and Sparta, some of which will surprise you.

Posted by
41 posts

DINNER WITH PERSEPHONE by Patricia Storace. Recounts one woman's year in Greece.

Posted by
2416 posts

"Dinner with Persephone" a sort of memoir, is well-written but somewhat of a downer... perspective on modern Greek life & character that is a bit cynical and disillusioned. Of course, no nation or culture is perfect, but D w P seemed, at least to me, a bit of a turn-off.

Another memoir I like much more, in a different spirit, is "Eurydice Street," written c. 2002-4, before all the recent economic struggles. Writer was born in England to Naturalized Brits (dad was a Russian intellectual, mother a Greek), Writer did grad. work in Greece in Anthropology... later fell in love w. a Greek diplomat. After years abroad in govt posts the couple w. 2 young daughters, moved to Greece for his job. Memoir of this young mother, looking at modern Greek life thru eyes of anthropology & ancient & modern history, is fascinating, along with watching their daughters gradually "becoming Greek." So many interwoven strands of history.

Posted by
13972 posts

An easy read is The Thread by Victoria Hislop, which details the events of modern Greece from the 1920s through several engaging central characters.

Posted by
2796 posts

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

Posted by
2416 posts

Latter 2 not in historical-novel category, fine as beach reads.

Posted by
4218 posts

I second Janet's nominations of the Mary Renault novels and Eurydice Street.

Posted by
1958 posts

In addition to the excellent historical recommendations, I enjoyed Marjory McGinn's adventures in the a Mani region of the Peloponnese. This took place during the economic crisis and the basis for her 3 memoirs. "Things Can Only Get Feta," " Homer's Where The Heart Is" and "A Scorpion In The Lemon Tree." Fun reads and they brought to light the culture of the areas we visited. Enjoy your journey!

Posted by
6 posts

Just to second Emma's recommendation, my wife and I love "The Durrels of Corfu" on PBS (its probably a BBC production but in the US its Masterpiece on PBS. Not a read but a fun watch and really nicely done. Emma, have you seen the series on PBS? If so, wondering how it compares to the book?

Posted by
2416 posts

Mergs, Durrells of Corfu is/was a lot of fun, but really tells more about Durrells & Brits of the 1930s than it does about Greece & the Greeks. Just sayin.

Posted by
386 posts

Admittedly I'm a bit of a nerd in terms of my reading/listening habits, but I really enjoyed this Great Courses program: https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/iliad-of-homer.html I hadn't read the Illiad since college and it wasn't a favorite then. Lecturer Elizabeth Vandiver really brings the material to life. In a series of several lectures she moves through the important points of the plot, explaining the cultural norms of the age which are behind why the characters act the way they do. It was great background to have while viewing all those Greek vases in museums, visiting Mycenae and Crete.

Posted by
5738 posts

Not necessarily fiction but here goes....
I studied up on Greek Mythology and the Greek Gods and Goddesses which was really helpful during our trip. And, of course, the Greek alphabet.
I did not find "Dinner with Persephone" a downer at all and recommend it.
If you are going to Crete, "The Cretan Runner", written by a shepherd who was a mountain runner for the British in WWII, is excellent. I bought my copy in Chania.
And agreeing with others above, ELENI by Nicholas Gage is excellent and helpful in understanding 20th century Greek history.