While in Greece or five books you ought to read
Early summer morning, cruising on the calm Ionian Sea, between islands bathed in the misty air and suspended between the clear blue sky and dark blue sea, I see the infinite blue and I carry five books in my suitcase, five books about Greece, set in its recent history, which should be read while in Greece, the land where gods chose to live and writers chose to write, and I begin to read.
In 1939, Miller, now 47, having already written his best-known works — Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn — leaves Paris, goes to Greece, invited by his close friend Lawrence Durrell, and is inspired. He stays at the Durrell’s house on the island of Corfu and visits the “navels of the human spirit”: Mycenae, Knossos, and Delphi. He is ecstatic. He writes a travelogue, The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), a journey through the prewar countryside of Greece. He writes: “It’s good to be just plain happy.”
However, happiness quickly fades with the start of the Second World War. In Apartment in Athens (1945), Glenway Wescott tells the story of a Greek couple sharing their Athenian apartment with a German officer, during the Axis occupation of Greece. It is a story of an unusual relationship, of identity and power, and, as Ira Du Bois Johnson writes in her essay on Wescott’s work, of the “perception of what is to be won or lost during war.”
John Fowles spent two years teaching English on the Greek island of Spetses, close to the Peloponnese, the island of re-enactments of naval battles. In his first novel, The Magus (1965), a metafictional thriller, Nicholas Urfe, a young British teacher, living on a Greek island, is subjected by a Maurice Conchis, a wealthy Greek, to psychological games, games called “godgame”, games in which the Nazi occupation and scenes of Greek myths are absurdly re-enacted. Micheal Cain is a brilliant Nicholas; Anthony Quinn a great Maurice.
Recent Greece, a language cult, characters and murders and sacrifices, all the elements of Don DeLillo’s mystery novel
The Names (1982) set mostly in Greece. Three years living in Greece and travelling in the Middle East, three years to write his seventh novel about language and about speech. Later, in an interview, DeLillo will say “there were periods in Greece when I tasted and saw and heard with much more sharpness and clarity than I’d ever done before or since.”
And to finish the list of books to be read in Greece, to conclude my stay in the land of gods, to close the circle, I read Lawrence Durrell’s novel Prospero’s Cell (2001). In his diary, Durrell explores his prewar memories of Corfu, an island in the Ionian Sea. He writes about its people, his friends, its landscapes, his house, opening with “Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue really begins.” I can see the infinite blue.