The owner of a 108-year-old, family bookstore in Athens, Sofia Eleftheroudakis is a keeper of the Greek culture and character. In a conversation with FP, she discussed the comeback of the classics, the country's broken school system, and how the weather affects Europe's reading habits.
JUNE 11, 2007
Foreign Policy: What are some of the best books Greeks are reading?
Sofia Eleftheroudakis: The last Greek book I read was actually a translation of Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes, dealing with the cultural history of Russia, which was excellent. If I could recommend a book written by a new Greek author that has already been translated into English, it would be Vangelis Hatziyannidis's Four Walls. It is a wonderful drama about the revival of a family's beekeeping business that leaves you mesmerized. Some of the best new Greek writers are Ersi Sotiropoulou, Katerina Karizoni, and Nikos Davvetas.
FP:Did the 2004 Olympics prompt a comeback to the classic works of Homer, Sophocles, and Euripides?
SE: There is a sort of comeback to the ancients, [but] I think it's just because… there are better [translations] now. A lot of people, as we grow, and I include myself, are not as interested in fiction anymore. We have a tendency to turn toward popular science, toward history and politics, and the ancient writings as well.
FP: Are there any Greek authors credited with awakening people to reading?
SE: Mara Meimaridou sold enormous numbers in Greece. Within a year, her book The Witches of Smyrna sold more than 120,000 copies, which is very, very high. Smyrna was a Greek town in Turkey -- or I should say it was an old Greek town. A lot of Greek townspeople lived in it in 1922, when they were forced to leave as refugees. The book concerns that period. It was very popular; it even became a TV series.
FP: In comparison to other countries in the European Union, are Greeks big readers?
SE: No, someone once said that we are probably the EU's worst readers. But I have a theory on that: We have very nice weather. I read a report that said the Finns read more books than any other country in the EU. It’s very cold there. It's very dark. It’s sparsely inhabited, so obviously people will go to work and then go home.
FP:So, what do Greek kids read?
SE: What should they be reading? Books like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. That's something I would encourage children to read, because these are books children enjoy reading. A Greek school would never encourage children to read a book like that. We have to learn ancient Greek, and we concentrate enormously on the grammar and the syntax of the ancient writings, and in the process, I think we miss the basi