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Friday, October 9, 2015

Book Review: Let Me Explain You by Annie Liontas

When I lived in New York, I lived in the Greek neighborhood, Astoria. Even though I have dark brown hair and brown eyes, they all somehow knew before I ever opened my mouth, that I was not one of them. My hairdresser, Anastasia, would speak in Greek to her colleagues and other Greek customers while she was doing my hair, even though her English was as perfect as mine. But the Greek ex-pat community is tight and inclusive in a way that keeps a large part of their culture alive, even in America.

Stavros Stavros Mavrakis owns a Greek diner in New Jersey and a goat appears one day. He understand this goat to mean that he is going to die in ten days. So he writes an email to his ex-wife and three daughters, telling them what they are doing wrong in their lives and how to fix it. Understandably, the women in his life don't appreciate the unsolicited advice and fights break out. Stavros Stavros doesn't understand why they misunderstand his good intentions and why they won't help him pick out a casket.

While the book is funny, it naturally has undercurrents of pain and sadness.I particularly liked the long flashback to Greece when Stavros was a youth and his bad first marriage and when his daughters were young. I wish there'd been more about the youngest daughter, Ruby. The book felt like it was 90% about the daughters from his first marriage, Stavroula and Litza, and only 10% about Ruby. But Stavroula and Litza do seem much more interesting so it makes sense to focus on them (I was just thinking that perhaps it might have made more sense to not have Ruby in the book at all. But she's not even in it enough to be a distraction so she's fine.) It's fascinating to see what parts of America they like, what parts they reject, what parts of being Greek they hold onto with their fingernails, and how they've adapted (or not.) Stavroula is an executive chef at a high-end restaurant, in love with the owner's daughter. Litza processes insurance claims and has a habit of assigning everyone to an insurance category based on what problems she thinks they have (or are). Their ex-step-mother Carol, their mother Dina, and the chef at the diner, Marina, round out the chorus. They try to process years of troubles and maladaptive coping techniques and the usual family traumas in just a few days, despite not believing the goat is a harbinger of death, but not willing to risk if it is.

This book would be best enjoyed with a cup of Greek coffee and a plate of baklava. I have been craving spanikopita since I read it. It's funny and heartbreaking and honest and real. And it is especially for those of us with imperfect families.

I checked this book out of the library.

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