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Literature

Light and Shadows: A Compelling Story Set in Greece

June 4, 2019

Light and Shadows by Karen Batshaw is a compelling work of historical fiction which starts off in the 1960s and then flashes back to Smyrna during the Asia Minor Catastrophe to tell the story of young Andreas and his family and then intertwines the story of Rebecca and her family in Kavala.

The book draws the reader in as it brings the history of the Catastrophe and then the World War II Occupation to life with great attention to detail and some solid characters. Acts of kindness amidst the horrors experienced during the periods of history covered in the book remind us of our shared humanity.

Beginning with the Catastrophe, the book then recounts the compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey and continues with the brutal occupation of northeast Greece by the Bulgarians during WWII.

As noted in the book’s description, “at first the Bulgarians tried to force out the Greek Orthodox, to make room for Bulgarian settlers. They tried to wipe out any vestige of the Greek culture and language. The last phase of their occupation was the transport of the Greek Jews to Treblinka which resulted in their total annihilation.”

Batshaw’s Hidden in Plain Sight began this historical fiction series set in 20th century Greece. Light and Shadows is a strong sequel to that compelling book also featuring love, courage, and defiance against overwhelming odds. At the heart of both books is family. The unique traditions of the people of Greece add layers to the story as we see the characters struggle through the traumatic events in their lives against the backdrop of history.

The well-to-do Serafis family in living in cosmopolitan Smyrna cannot imagine what is happening as the world around them suddenly falls apart. The things we take for granted, food, shelter, clothing, the safety and security of our homes, respect for elders, the sanctity of human life, all disappear in the chaos and violence for the young Andreas who is just eight years old at the start of the book. The horrors he witnesses mark him for life and yet the indomitable spirit and will to survive help him reach Kavala where he hopes to find his family’s maid who had managed to board a boat leaving Smyrna.

Rebecca, also eight years old, finds the starving boy, befriends him, and helps him.

Years later when the Axis forces divide Greece between them, Kavala is handed over to the Bulgarians.

Now a young woman, Rebecca, as the youngest daughter in her family, never married because she lacked a dowry. Her friendship with Andreas blossoms into something more amid the uncertainty of life during the Occupation in Greece.

Though the book recounts some of the most traumatic events in Greek history of the 20th century, the overall message is a hopeful one. It reminds the reader of the spirit of the people, the love of family, the shared values, that make Greece such a special place.

Light and Shadows by Karen Batshaw is available online.

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