Aussie Book Review: Two Greeks by John Charalambous

Two Greeks John Charalambous- Two Greeks

 Format- Paperback

 Source- Review copy/ University of Queensland Press

 Synopsis: In the spirit of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, Two Greeks explores migrant life and family tensions in 1970’s Australian suburbia.

Ten-year-old Andy figures all fathers must be part ogre, part child, part Zeus – or maybe just all Greek fathers? His peculiar little family is on the brink of collapse.

His sister believes that men and women should live separately, girls with their mothers, boys with their fathers.

His mother is eagerly awaiting the advent of no fault divorce, when she will farewell Harry Stylianou and all his crazy bullying, and live in peace.

But Andy has a melodramatic mind and fears that things could easily end in murder. If only he could subdue his father’s rage. If only he could charm the knife from his pocket. Normal family life seems impossible, until one summer’s day in 1974 a miraculous Greek voice pierces the surrounding Anglosphere – promising to put the family right.
Two Greeks is a bittersweet story about mentoring, delusion and a child’s need to trust.

 Review: Two Greeks is a clever story about a dysfunctional family who face culture clashes, domestic abuse and an inquisitive young boy who is trying to make sense of his Greek-Australian family in the 1970’s. It is told from the POV of Andy, a ten year old boy who seems to be relaying the family experiences to his mother when he is an adult (this is a little confusing at first, but soon becomes clearer). Harry is a Cypriot migrant who marries an Australian woman who is quite inexperienced with men and relationships. He is overprotective, controlling and emotionally abusive but she stands by him for the sake of the children, Angela who we meet as a teenage girl and of course Andy. Their mother is waiting for the laws to change so she can leave Harry without legal hassles following a  twelve month separation.

Andy strives for the approval of his Greek father, but doesn’t know how to get it. While Angela is not afraid to stand up to her bully father and fears her mother’s safety. Common in children of families where there is domestic abuse, Angela too is controlling and protective, this she has learnt as a means of survival and desire to look after her mother. Andy seems to go under the radar in the family, not quite sure where he fits in until an old man by the name of Alex Voreadis, a Greek man who moves in next door. Intrigued by him, Andy begins to visit the man who offers him a dog-walking job for $1 a day which he accepts. Andy forms a friendship with the man who teaches him Greek prose, politics and history which he sponges up with pride. It is through his neighbour that he truly begins to understand his father, and it is this indirect relationship that he can connect with his father as a Greek man with a past captured by losses, disappointments and challenges and not just the bully he knows him as.

I really enjoyed Two Greeks, it’s a classic piece of literature that highlights how ones origins remain part of you throughout your life and also provides an insight into culture, identity and family relationships in a mixed migrant family in Australia.

3.5/5 rating

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Fishpond / University of Queensland Press

About the author: John Charalambous was born and educated in Melbourne. He grew up in a culturally mixed family – Greek Cypriot on his father’s side, Anglo-Australian on his mother’s. Following an interest in painting, he obtained a teaching degree in fine arts from Melbourne State College. While teaching art in secondary schools he began to write fiction, at the same time studying literature and creative writing at Melbourne University. After spending time in Cyprus and Greece, he took up a teaching appointment in the central Victorian town of Wedderburn, where he remained for thirteen years, no longer as a teacher but running a small business. This experience of rural life became the basis for his first novel Furies, UQP, 2004, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book (South East Asia and South Pacific region).
His second novel Silent Parts, UQP, 2006, explores a family’s private myths about a WW1 soldier who didn’t come home. Silent Parts was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award in 2007. John now lives in Bendigo, Victoria, where he is completing an English Honours year at La Trobe University. His third novel Two Greeks will be published in August 2011

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