Movies, virtual tours and online guides are great, but if you’re an avid reader, you know that nothing can spark the imagination and make one’s mind travel like books. Here, we’ve gathered a collection of books that capture the landscapes, cities, images, smells and sensations of Greece, to help you remember past travels, or anticipate those to come.
For the heck of it, we’ve also included a few fun contemporary works for those who prefer poetry or graphic novels.
Special thanks to: Diamantis Diamantidis, Event Curator & Promoter at Lexikopoleio bookstore in Pangrati, and Areti Georgili, owner of Free Thinking Zone bookstore in Kolonaki, for their help in picking out the books to include in this list.
Zorba the Greek (1946) by Nikos Kazantzakis
Even if you’ve read this book before (or seen the 1964 film adaption), now seems a particularly suitable time to re-read it. What the uptight indoor-type narrator of Kazantzakis’ novel (originally titled “The Life and Times of Alexis Zorba”) learns from the hero Alexis Zorbas on his trip to Crete is to pull his nose out of his books, and live life to its fullest. In these days of quarantine, the thought of looking up from our screens and venturing out into the world – and possibly a Greek island – is more alluring than ever.
What you get: Possibly a life lesson.
The Magus (1965) by John Fowles
Inspired by his own experiences on Spetses, Fowles describes the landscape on a Saronic island in a way that makes you feel like you are there in the flesh in his novel about teacher Nicholas Urfe, on the fictional island of “Phraxos.” If you’ve ever visited Spetses, you’ll be reminded of many places which appear in some detail. The protagonist becomes intoxicated with the island, and his loneliness is reflected in the silence of the forest and the vastness of nature.
What you get: Descriptions of nature so vivid you can smell it.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1994) by Louis de Bernieres
In this epic war time love story, the reader travels to the Ionian island of Kefalonia during the Italian and German occupation in the Second World War. Centered around the romance between the Greek Pelagia and the Italian Captain Corelli, it is also a story of the love between a Greek father and daughter, and a local community that won the sympathies their occupiers.
What you get: Romance.
Good Will Come From the Sea (2019) by Christos Ikonomou
Greece is more than beautiful landscapes and tragic history. If you prefer the real world to the romanticized and the present to the past, this book is a good option for you. In four connected stories, Ikonomou presents the many struggles endured by people in Greece today. It’s set on an unnamed Aegean island, to which a group of Athenian friends relocate, looking to start over after suffering the effects of the Greek economic crisis. Instead, what they find is more poverty, and struggling migrants.
What you get: A healthy dose of reality.
Dangerous Spring (2017) by Yannis Maris
Yannis Maris is often referred to as the father of Greek crime novels. In this story, he brings the reader to the upscale northern Athenian suburb of Kifissia, in the year of 1965. Maris’ hero, inspector Georgios Bekas, is tasked with solving a double murder of the wife and daughter of a wealthy shipowner.
What you get: A taste of grand Kifissia the way it was, and, to some extent, still is today.
The Island (2007) by Victoria Hislop
If the island that holds your heart is Crete, and you have yet to read this bestselling story by Hislop, it’s a must. Along with 25-year-old Alexis, who travels to the seaside village of her ancestors, the reader discovers the history of the island of Spinalonga across the bay, once home to a leper colony, through the tragic and intense stories of her family.
What you get: Family drama and history.
Democracy (2015) by Alecos Papadatos, Abraham Kawa, Annie di Donna
You don’t need to be an avid comic book reader to enjoy this graphic novel. While it might not make your mind wander to the Greece you know from summer vacations, the colorful images and characters by artists Alecos Papadatos and Annie DiDonna, paired with the stories provided by writer Abraham Kawa, will help young and old travel to ancient Greece, and live the birth of democracy.
What you get: An exciting mix of fact and fiction.
Erotokritos (2016) by George Goussis, Dimosthenis Papamarkos, Yiannis Ragos
One of Hellenism’s most popular works (and history’s most important piece of Cretan literature), Vikentios’ romance Erotokritos has been given new life in this modern graphic novel. The story centers around the love affair of Erotokritos and Aretousa, set in an imaginary pre-Christian Athens.
What you get: A cultural touchstone in an engaging format
Travel Journals & Autobiographies
Eleni (1989) by Nicholas Gage
In this autobiography, the author focuses on the painful story of his mother, Eleni, and how she fought to save her family from being captured by communist guerrillas during the Greek Civil War. While deeply tragic, the descriptions of the family’s home, the tiny village of Lia in northwestern Greece have inspired many to travel in the footsteps of its protagonist. Critically acclaimed and an international bestseller, the book has been translated into 32 languages.
What you get: The feels.
Passage to Paradise – Hellenic Sketches of the Mind (2019) by Yannis Zervos
In this memoir, Zervos describes his adventures after arriving in Greece in 1951, when the country had been devasted by occupation and civil war, in search of his roots and identity. The story begins and ends in his family home in Paradisos, while also journeying to a number of Greek islands such as Hydra and Kea, where he found his ancestral roots.
What you get: A taste of modern history from the second half of the 20th century.
Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958) & Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (1966) by Patrick Leigh Fermor
In these two travel books, the great Patrick Leigh Fermor writes about the Mani peninsula and about northern Greece in his personal, captivating way, mixing adventure, memoir, and travel writing. In the first book, he covers his journey around the Mani peninsula, an area then considered isolated and rough, with his wife Joan and his friend Xan Fielding. In the second, he travels all around the northern parts of Greece, from the monasteries of Meteora to the salt flats of Messolonghi.
What you get: A look into the history and culture (art history, icons, religion, and myths) of the Greeks, through the eyes of one of the 20th century’s great philhellenes.
The Colossus of Maroussi (1941) by Henri Miller
This impressionist travelogue from Miller’s travels in Greece over nine months in 1939 (before he was forced to leave due to the outbreak of the Second World War) is often described as his best work, and was his personal favorite. He paints a colorful picture of Athens, Crete, Poros, Corfu, Hydra and Delphi, where he spent time in the company of his wife Nancy, novelist Lawrence Durrell, poet Theodore Stephanides, and Greek writer George Katsimbalis (the Colossus, who some believe to represent a self-portrait of Miller himself).
What you get: A true classic.
No Appy Polly Loggies (2019) by Zelda Burns (aka Mayia Tsopela)
Burns’ modern prose poetry is raw, direct and unapologetic, delving into relationships in modern Greece, focusing on themes such as infidelity, deception, illusions, dreams that come true, and dreams that become nightmares. The publisher shares this snippet:
«Summer, a bitter sweet retrospect»:
I was cheated as a child,
I was cheated on as a wife,
So as a young divorcee
I decided to see what the fuss was all about.
And what does that say about me?
Well reader let’s find out.
There are two types of married men.
The ones that ultimately leave their wives for you,
(A rare breed).
And the ones who never do, no matter what they promise.”
What you get: A stark look at modern relationships in Greece in the modern era.
Passengers (2018) by Assaf al Asaf, Kyriakos Athanassiades, Christos Armando Gezos, Lucia Dervi, Zefi Kollia, Maria Liakou, Elena Maroutsou, Amanda Michalopoulou, Alexis Stamatis, Thomas Symeonidis, Soti Triantafyllou, Christos Chomenidis, Dimitris Fyssas
Twelve Greek authors and one Syrian share their thoughts, concerns, anxieties and hopes, through 13 short stories set in Greece in this trilingual (Greek, English and French) collection. The writers have offered their works pro bono, and part of the sales of the book are directed to the NGO Action Aid Hellas.
What you get: Views on Greece from multiple perspectives.
Cartes Postales from Greece (2017) by Victoria Hislop
An overarching story in which the character Ellie receives postcards from a stranger, inspiring her to travel to Greece, ties this collection of short stories by Hislop together. The postcards (and a notebook) arrive from various locations around Greece, creating a patchwork of images from the country the author is known to love. Each card is a snapshot of Greek life and culture, with a wide variety of themes such as the economic crisis, religion, family, history, and traditions. If day dreaming about Greek destination is not enough for you, this is the book to choose.
What you get: Possibly some help choosing which Greek destination you should choose next.
For Kids and Young Adults
Out of the blue (2019) by Christina V. Nella
With lively imagery depicting the beauty of the Mediterranean, Nella’s story depicts two children embarking on an underwater adventure they will remember for the rest of their lives. As they encounter various obstacles, nature is always there to protect them, with various endangered sea creatures making appearances, introducing young readers to ecological awareness.
What you get: Kids excited to learn how to swim, and an ethical message.
Wildcat under the Glass (1963) by Alki Zei
Young Melia, Zei’s narrator, is growing up in the 1930s, an important time in modern Greek history as she and her family, along with the nation, are forced into a fascist dictatorship. Despite this setting, the child’s perspective keeps the story light. This classic has been translated into 35 languages, and is repeatedly reprinted in several countries.
What you get: A healthy dose of modern history.
My Family and Other Animals (1956) by Gerald Durrell
This famous autobiography by Durrell about the years he spent living with his family in Corfu from the age of ten to fourteen, is the first out of three books he wrote about that time. A pleasant read for children and adults alike, the author humorously shares aspects of his life with his family, his obsession with animals and nature, and the locals he got to know on the island.
What you get: Laughs.