Kissing through a handkerchief

Edward Byrne has freely transposed the sonnets of Louise Labé (1522-1566) and Guido Cavalcanti (shown at left, circa 1255-1300) for audaciously modern renderings. REVIEW

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#26 Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

November 26th, 2015

LOCATION: Kalavryta Museum, Peloponnese, Greece

DIRECTIONS: Drive from Athens to Diakofto, then up into the mountains.

Despite being occupied many times by invaders, Greeks have always proudly maintained their culture. Stella Leventoyannis Harvey didn’t know how much the resistance fighters of Greece would fit into her first novel, Nicolai’s Daughters, until she visited Kalavryta. On December 13, 1943, German forces had massacred all the males in Kalavryta over the age of thirteen and locked the women and children in the school and set it on fire. Many of the women and children were able to escape the blaze, but only thirteen males over the age of thirteen survived. “The novel found its soul in that tiny mountain village,” Harvey says.

Harvey, Stella her photo of Kalavryta Statue

This statue at the Kalavryta Museum commemorates the tragedy. Photo by Stella Harvey.

In Kalavryta, approximately 1,000 houses were looted and burned. Some 700 civilians were killed during what the Germans called Operation Kalavryta. Twenty-eight communities — towns, villages, monasteries and settlements — were destroyed. “I listened to the testimonials of the victims recorded in the Kalavryta museum,” says Harvey, “which had once been the village school, and I climbed Kappi Hill where the massacre happened—considered the worse atrocity perpetrated by the Nazis in Greece during WWII—and it was then I realized I wanted to tell the Kalavryta story.

One of the testimonials Harvey listened to in Kalavryta was by a man in his eighties. “He talked about being lined up with the other men and boys that bright December day and being asked by a German soldier how old he was. He lied about his age. He didn’t know what made him lie because he had no idea what was to come. He lied almost as an act of defiance. It saved his life. He broke down during his testimonial, saying he’d felt guilty his whole life for surviving while all his friends died.

Harvey, Stella Kalavryta 1

Nazi reprisals at Kalavryta

“I’ve often thought about that man and what the impact would be on a survivor with so much guilt to bear. In the novel, Nicolai’s father’s guilt is based on a different set of circumstances, but I came to realize what living with the weight of such guilt means in a person’s life, first through the pain I saw in eyes of the man in the testimonial recording–who had a difficult time looking into the camera as he spoke–and later in the damaged human being that is my character’s father.

With dual narratives from a father and a daughter, Nicolai’s Daughters (Signature $2012), profiles the tragedy-ridden Sarinopoulous family in the village of Diakofto, on the Gulf of Corinth. During visits to Diakofto twenty-five years apart, both are haunted by shameful village gossip emanating from the WW II massacre of Greeks by Nazis at nearby Kalavryta. It was a reprisal for the killing of 78 German soldiers who had been taken prisoner by Greek guerillas in October.

Nicolai’s Daughters was translated and released in Greece in 2014 by Psichogios Press.

Stella Harvey’s second novel, The Brink of Freedom, returns to Greece and the contemporary plight of refugees in the Mediterranean area, depicting some of the efforts made by Canadians to try to help them.

Harvey, Stella Refugees 1

Photo in Athens by Stella Harvey

Faced with their own severe economic crisis, Greeks have difficulty responding fully to the influx of would-be refugees, many of whom try to reach the island of Lesbos, near Turkey. In the novel, a young boy goes missing from a refugee camp in Athens. After he is found with a Canadian woman, Greek police apprehend a Gypsy from Ukraine on suspicion of human trafficking. Desperate times invariably result in desperate measures.

The appearance of Harvey’s novel was poignantly timely given events in the first half of 2015 when migrants flooded into Europe, primarily fleeing the civil wars in Syria. Understandably the bailouts required for Greeks to remain with the Euro made it doubly hard to swallow when Greeks knew their main main creditors were Germany and France.

Harvey, Stella Refugees 3

Ship used by migrants. Stella Harvey photo.

“The characters are as real to me as my neighbours and friends,” Harvey wrote in 2015. “I feel desperate when my characters make what I think are bad decisions. I hear myself shouting, please don’t do that. Yet, they persist in being their own masters. So I have no choice but to stand by them. I weep with them when they suffer the consequences of their decisions. And I cheer for them if they find their way out of their predicaments.

“Long after the novel is complete and I’ve started a new project, my characters and their troubles and triumphs never leave me. Despite their quirks and shortcomings (don’t we all have them?), my characters have kept me company and been as good to me as any friend or good book might be.”

Born in Cairo, Stella Leventoyannis Harvey grew up in Calgary and founded the Whistler Writers Group in 2001. She launched her second novel at the festival in Whistler in 2015.

Her short stories have appeared in the Literary Leanings Anthology, the New Orphic Review, Emerge Magazine and the Dalhousie Review. Her non-fiction has appeared in Pique Newsmagazine, the Question and the Globe and Mail.

According to her publisher’s website: “A social worker by training, Harvey ran a management consulting practice in Canada and abroad, developing business and strategic plans, implementing mergers, acquisitions and large change initiatives and helping ease the transition of employees caught in corporate downsizing.”

Much of Harvey’s family still lives in Greece and she visits often. Harvey’s family is originally from the Peloponnese, from a town calle Kyparissia, where a grandfather and a great grandfather were born. Her Greek grandfather fought in WW I and the Greek Turkish war. Her grandmother was raised on the island of Naxos.

BOOKS:

Nicolai’s Daughters (Signature Editions, 2012) 978-1897109-97-7 $22.95

The Brink of Freedom (Signature Editions, 2015) 978-1927426760 $22.95

[INFORMATION POSTED JANUARY 1, 2016]

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