Ilias Venezis

Land of Aeolia

Translated by Therese Sellers

This present translation brings one of the most beloved works of modern Greek literature to readers of English for the first time in its entirety. Land of Aeolia tells the story of the author’s childhood summers in Anatolia before World War I, before the Greek genocide, the Greco-Turkish war, the author’s captivity by the Turks, and before the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1922 that led to the permanent loss of his homeland. It is a testament to the power of literature to evoke that which is irrevocably lost.

In this story of his childhood, half fiction, half truth, Ilias Venezis describes and affirms a world in which the lives of humans, be they smugglers, saints, brigands, farmers, camel drivers or children, are reflected in nature — in her mountains, rivers, trees, eagles, bears, eels, and lizards, and all her manifestations — and therefore share an innate affinity with her mysterious world.

The book includes a prologue by Bruce Clark, author of the prize-winning study of the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, Twice a Stranger, as well as explanatory and biographical notes and a glossary of Greek and Turkish words.

Part novel, part fairy tale, part memoir, Land of Aeolia, in the voice of Petros, a young boy, tells of the adventures he and his sisters have over a number of summers spent with their grandparents in a hinterland of Anatolia in the shadow of the Kimindenia mountains. The fairy tales handed down by his grandmother, the stories of passing travellers, and his own close observations of the animals and trees, mountains and river, combine in his imagination to make a fully sentient world. And as in fairy tales, drops of blood can speak, eels fall in love, the forest can move. Stories within stories contain ferocious bandits, melancholy camel drivers and a terrifying mermaid, while even the “real” world is populated with swashbuckling smugglers and a pint-sized ghost.

‘This is the second English translation of the book; the first appeared in 1949, with an introduction by Lawrence Durrell. . . . This edition is the first to give the unabridged text to English readers, complete with the proto-magical realism that makes it unique and beloved in Greece. Venezis’s magical realism reminds me less of Latin American literature than of Homer’s Iliad, where horses might talk, gods kick down walls, or a sentient river wrestle with a man, but where the human condition is rendered with a clear eye. Or perhaps it is the Odyssey it most resembles: grandfather’s farm, with its herdsmen and ploughmen and maidservants that live on the property, could be a Bronze-Age homestead, offering hospitality to travellers, while also keeping a cache of antique weapons next door to the children’s bedroom. There, in the “Yellow Room, the weapons were stored like precious objects . . . There were rifles from Europe and swords: enough to arm all the ploughmen in an emergency.”

‘When Petros’s sister, Artemis, listens on a windy night to the noises coming through the wall and announces, “The swords have woken up in the Yellow Room . . . !”, she is reassured by their sister Anthippe that it is only ”mice”. But the reader suspects that by the end of the book the swords will have awakened in earnest . . . That the book’s spell is destined to be broken only gives it a fiercer sweetness.

‘Sellers has brought this important work whole for the first time to English readers in a meticulous translation with the freshness of the original . . . Land of Aeolia will stay relevant for as long as people must leave their homelands and the enchanted borders of childhood.’

Α. Ε. Stallings, in The Times Literary Supplement, August 13, 2021.

  • 284 pages, 23.0 x 15.0 cm, Denise Harvey (Publisher), 2020
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