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Guest Viewpoints

I Moved to Greece for Three Months- So Many Others Were Doing the Same

September 6, 2022
By Christopher Cosmos

In October 2020, I had my debut novel published. It’s a love story that begins in Greece on Oxi Day and follows three young friends as they navigate all the events that then happen after – when first the Italians invade, and then the Germans – and it was published and released by Arcade and Simon & Schuster to mark and commemorate the 80th anniversary of Oxi Day.

That date was chosen dozens of months in advance to coincide with that portentous anniversary and holiday, but as it got closer, the date also happened to coincide with something else: the beginning of a generational and world-altering pandemic.

The pandemic part of course made it much more difficult to release a debut novel, in that so many bookstores were either closed or just doing curbside or mail-orders, and the other thing it made much more difficult was a promise I’d made to myself.

I first began conceiving of the story that would become Once We Were Here while attending the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I still live, and hearing first-hand the stories of what the women and men of Greece did and gave during World War II, from those who had lived through it, and how Greece helped the Allies to win the war.

So, in many ways, it’s a story and novel that took a lifetime to write, from the time I was very small, as an altar boy at church first hearing these stories, then continuing through high school, college, and beyond; and when I finally finished writing it, what I promised myself is that I’d book a one-way ticket to Greece to retrace the steps of the characters I wrote about and their journey through war-torn Greece in the fall of 1940 and spring of 1941.

That’s the promise that pandemic interrupted, but even though it was temporarily delayed, I was still and finally able to make the journey this spring and summer.

Once We Were Here by Christopher Cosmos. Photo: Christopher Cosmos

In the novel itself, in a passage towards the beginning, I write that “we Greeks have a word for everything,” and we have a word for this type of journey, too, what I planned to do:

Nostos. Homecoming.

And I did so many amazing and incredible things during this most recent nostos to Greece. I once again sailed ancient seas and climbed sacred and towering mountains. I stood on the pink sands of Elafonisi and looked across the Libyan sea towards Africa in the distance; I climbed Mt. Olympus, where I reached as high as I could to touch the sky and God and gods that most certainly still live there, and I walked the streets of Volos and lived there in the city where my great-grandfather was once a cobbler and where our family was from and also lived, before coming to America nearly a hundred years ago now.

I met old friends. I made new friends.

And while I thought the journey would be the most important thing – this gift I gave to myself – and all the sites I saw along the way, it wasn’t. The most important thing I saw was all the others who were there doing the same thing I was doing, and fulfilling their annual nostos.

This is a phenomenon that, at least in my opinion, is unrivaled anywhere else in the world: the sheer number of members of the diaspora, like myself, that return to Greece every year and the strength of culture and connection to homeland that’s forged, bound, reinforced, and celebrated during those trips and visits with family and friends.

I ended up extending my trip three times and leaving a few days short of three months, to return to the United States to prepare for the paperback release of Once We Were Here on September 6 (available now anywhere books are sold!) and reflecting on all that I did and everywhere I went, this is what I’m left with:

I’ll keep telling our stories, because there are so many of them, and it’s what we do.

And most blessed are we that have not just one home, but two.

It’s of course not yet next year, but it will be soon, so that means it’s time to start planning another nostos. If you are, also, then make sure to wave when you see me in Greece next summer, because it’s not only where we’re from, but who we are, and I’ll wave, too.

Christopher Cosmos is a bestselling author of historical fiction from Grand Rapids, MI, whose debut novel, Once We Were Here, a multi-generational love story set in Greece during World War II, is now available anywhere books are sold. More info about him and his work can be found at www.christophercosmos.com or by following him on Twitter @XristosCosmos, Instagram @christophercosmos, or Facebook @ChristopherCosmosAuthor.

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