Book Review: The Greek Islands – A Notebook by Richard Clark

thegreekislandsrccover-copyHaving already read Crete- A Notebook (January this year) and Rhodes-A Notebook (in June this year) I was slightly afraid I’d re-reading some stuff all over again. But I was wrong; while the books on Crete and Rhodes do contain some stories which are also in the Greek Islands book, there is enough fresh content not to get bored.

Richard Clark is a British journalist who has lived on Crete in the eighties while he taught English as a second language in a private school. Then and later when he came back to Greece, he has traveled extensively in Crete, but also in Rhodes and to other islands.

The book starts with a section on “Get by in Greek” which comprises a lot of useful phrases to use when travel to Greece. No, you don’t need to read the Greek alphabet to be able to read/learn these. Speaking at least some words in Greek will get you a long way with the locals.

Then we are given a brief synopsis of the Greek history , highlighting the most important historical events. And so that you can drool from the beginning… there’s a list of “Greek Food at-a-Glance” , with the Greek names for the dishes, of course, so that you know what to order in a taverna.

The Greek Islands is divided into three sections:

  • Journeys and Places
  • Culture and History
  • People and Island Life

The book comprises tales of journeys to and within Rhodes, Corfu and Crete, but also to some other islands in the area , such as Santorini where “cats bask in the sun under blue shuttered windows as multi-colored flowers cascade from terracotta urns”.

Clark is amazing at mixing the historical facts, myths , legends and information about books and movies set in Greece with the stories about his travels. While your attention gears towards those facts, you still don’t forget the tale which started the trailing off. I particularly liked the info on Ochi Day.

The author also talks about rebetika, the Greek music which came into existence during the migration in 1922. After the Greek forces were driven out of Smyrna by the Turkish troops and following brutal reprisals by the Turks on the predominantly Greek population in Smyrna, It was agreed that all Christians should leave the Ottoman territory for Greek (and Muslims living in Greece should move to Turkey). About 1.5 million people of Greek origin took the long trek to Greece and among them, the unique rebetika music was born.

I felt again just how simple a thing happiness is: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else” [Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis ] is the best phrase to capture the essence of life on any Greek island.

There are quite a lot of pages dedicated to the olive oil, wine and honey, as well as to the amazing Greek food. Do yourself a favor and not be hungry when you read those!

To mark the end of the book, the Prologue deals with the economic issues Greece has been facing since 2009.

Just like the other two books, I read this one as a novel, waiting for the next thing to happen. I read it slower though because I didn’t want it to end so fast (childish, I know).

I recommend the book for any person who has ever dreamed of visiting Greece, whether they plan to visit Crete, Rhodes, Corfu or other islands. I would even say that it’s a must read before planning a vacation because the book highlights a lot of hidden gems which no travel agent will tell you about.

>>you can buy the book here

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