Greek-Australian Jorge Sotirios, author of the acclaimed Lonesome George, C’est Moi!, spoke with The National Herald about his latest book, Graffiti over Marble: A Portrait of Greece in Crisis, which explores the human cost of the Greek economic crisis. With its myriad voices and vibrant characters, this memoir focuses on a turbulent drama played out in the street, inside the home, at the workplace and within cafes and tavernas. From Athens to the traditional village, from remote islands to the Balkan borderlands, a portrait emerges of a nation under siege.
When asked how long did the book take from idea to publication, Sotirios told TNH that “the book’s genesis was in 2012 when I researched SBS Dateline’s Greece in Crisis (available at SBS Australia website) thus a good seven years in the making.”
About his roots in Greece, Sotirios said, “My parents are from Lakonia, south of Sparta (Mesohori) which I talk about in my travels around the land.”
When asked what was the most striking thing he learned about Greece during the process of writing the book, Sotirios told TNH, “The most striking thing about Greece I learnt was how resilient Greeks were in the face of economic implosion. A humbling experience for me providing hope for survival.”
Since 2012, Sotirios has watched up close the unemployment soaring, the demonstrations multiplying, and the standards of living plummeting to greater depths. Sotirios covers the diversity of the land and its people by creating a mosaic composed of characters, ideas, moods and feelings, and gives a human face to the damning statistics. “It’s one thing to read Varoufakis on the inner workings of the EU financial elite (Adults in the Room), but it’s another to get the view from the street, inside the home, and inside the heads of the young and the old,” Sotirios said, delayed dreams, dented pride and all.
“I was especially interested in workplace change. I made efforts to visit the steelyards, shipbuilding industry, and olive oil presses to experience how vicarious employment took root: short term contracts, casualization, the exploitation of youth, that sort of thing.”
About the professional class which left in droves, Sotirios said, “Major exodus. Many stayed put having little alternative, whilst others with specialized skills sought a new life in the UK, the U.S., Australia, too….” Australia’s postwar immigrant drive has seen the grandchildren return on visas as healthcare professionals, kitchen chefs, but also as start-up entrepreneurs, and bio-medical technicians. One country’s loss is another’s gain in a competitive global environment.
The book reads as a cautionary tale of what happens when a sovereign nation signs away its gains for an illusory economic advantage, the doom and gloom offset by the moments of humor and heart in this fascinating read.
The author also remains hopeful that the next generation will redress the wrongs. Asserting that the Greek resilient spirit is abundant, Sotirios maintains that for Greece to prosper it needs to re-invent itself. The book includes 70 photos of the remarkable graffiti that has led to Athens being described as “the new Berlin,” and Sotirios concurs with the description.
British broadcaster of #ThisIsACoup, Paul Mason, claims Sotirios captured the epic resistance well by documenting the “shouts and screams scribbled across the city walls.”
Professor of Modern Greek at the University of Sydney, Vrasidas Karalis, said that it is “one of the most impressive and monumental books ever written on the impact of the economic crisis on the fabric, life and culture of the Greeks. Something between Ernest Hemingway’s early journalism and Patrick Leigh Fermor’s cultural description of Greece (with a pinch of Gonzo journalism).”
Graffiti over Marble: A Portrait of Greece in Crisis by Jorge Sotirios is available online: www.inhousepublishing.com.au.