Review: Generations –A Greek Family Odyssey
Author: Angela Couloumbis Dawson
Reviewed by: Ralph Peluso, Literary Editor
Zebra Rating – 5 Stripes
Most Americans have roots to somewhere else and endured the family tales and droning old stories told by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives. From her first chapter, readers make a quick connection to Angela’s work. Her stories are poignant, and go right to heart of immigrant family trials and tribulations.
Dawson intertwines her semi-autobiographical novel with real narratives from her family’s migration in the early part of the 20th century. Their sojourn to America starts in Greece, and is like so many others that undertook the challenge in search of a better life. This is a sharp, well-written portrait of the immigrant journey. The trip alone was difficult, and upon arrival, the newcomers did not find utopia. They needed to work hard to provide for their families. But the hope for a better future kept them going. With survival on the line, her characters stay the course with extreme grit and determination.
“Every story is fact-based and the characters real. The Greek –American community possessed an indomitable spirit,” said Dawson. “I started chapter three as a creative writing assignment in the 1980s. I decided to delve deeper. My goal was to capture these great stories in a book. Approximately two years ago my grandmother passed away at 97. If I had not captured her stories, they’d be gone. I expanded research to include my mother’s story and my own about a year and a half ago, culminating with my visit to Siatista, Greece in May 2017. That provided a real ‘feel’ for the town where my grandmother was born and raised.”
The personal nature of the work comes across clearly. “Every family member has a story, even young children. So listen to them,” Angela said. “Families and their stories; what they went through, well, that affects who we are, free will aside.”
The author’s passion for her heritage comes to the forefront in this work. She kept it in the family too. The cover art is designed by James Dawson, Angela’s husband.
Her central character, Sandra, comes to America as a Greek immigrant in an arranged marriage. Many European women came to America as ‘picture brides’ through such arrangements (as I can attest, some women in their very early teens). Her granddaughter Angela, the product of a broken home, ends up as the only Greek Orthodox student at a 120-year-old Catholic boarding school. (If being in a Catholic school was not difficult enough). They found the American dream was more difficult to achieve than expected. This will not surprise readers who are familiar with immigration history. It is what these characters do to carry on after the bliss of arriving wears off, or when things did not go according to plan.
Angela views her book as motivation to record family history. “We need to capture the earlier generations’ voices and create an account of the immigrant experiences. Do this while the older generation is still alive. Record their memories, even if just for your family. The popularity of genealogical history has intensified public interest in family roots. The courage and determination of those who came to the United States long ago is inspiring and worth remembering,” Angela further commented.
Angela is a successful freelance journalist, providing reviews for Front Row Features. She is a graduate of American University. She will always call Alexandria her home, despite having relocated to Los Angeles. Sort of Beverley Hills to Beverly Hills.
Readers will make a real connection to her work, hopefully recalling their own family stories.
A super read for all.
Zebra rating –solid 5 stripes
Review: Harper Counts Her Blessings
Author: Kristi Guillory Reid
Illustrations by: Jerry Kraft
Publisher: Mama’s Boys Inc.
Kristi is a successful DC area lawyer who currently resides in Alexandria with her loving husband and five-year old daughter, Harper. She has always had a passion for writing. “I write what I know,” she told me. “And I had an important message to get out. “
“Within the circle of children’s literature,” she explained, “there is a lack of diversity. African-American families too are loving and warm. And face the same challenges and excitements in raising a child. I wanted to fill that void. ”
She does that. Her message is sharply presented in the mixture of words and illustrations in Kristi’s work. As adults, many of the daily chores we do are taken for granted. But when a child does something for the first time it can elicit unfettered joy. The themes throughout the book tug at the heart strings, especially when Harper is learning how to pray and be thankful. Beautifully-spirited Harper is thankful for family time, and daddy’s hugs and kisses. That’s a wow moment, from which readers will reflect.
“There are no ordinary days for children,” Kristi explained.
This is a wonderful book to read to all small children each night, or simply to help adults stay grounded. Just a delightful work.
Zebra rating: a must for your child’s library. 5 stripes