FACING ATHENS: Encounters with the Modern City

George Sarrinikolaou, Author . North Point $18 (160p) ISBN 978-0-86547-699-8

In this slender, frank memoir, journalist Sarrinikolaou revisits his native Athens, Greece, blending present and past narratives of a place once beloved and now wracked with greed, racism and violence. For Sarrinikolaou, it's his first extended stay since his family emigrated to New York when he was 10. He senses the city's golden age is gone: "I became a perennial visitor, neither an insider nor an outsider, but one who stares at one's life through glass." Although modern Athens may posess some of the Parthenon's ageless endurance, much of its formerly solid foundation is crumbling through neglect because of the working class's flight to the suburbs, leaving the poor and immigrants to unsucessfully deal with the inner city's decay. The prevailing Greek mood, Sarrinikolaou counters, is racist, not xenophobic, as his countrymen march refugee Albanians home across the border. In suburban bastions of old money, he contrasts the Athenian aristocracy, villas and privilege, all at a secure, safe distance from the city, with buses packed with sweaty servants and gardeners at quitting time. Sarrinikolaou's snapshot observations are significant, as he touches on frenzied soccer games, gypsies' homes, the ritual of a lamb feast, student politics and the Archbishop Christodoulos Paraskevaides's protest against government exclusion of religion on new state identity cards. His writing seems conflicted, troubled, as if he didn't want to cast his childhood recollections against the myth of Athens. Nevertheless, he tries to play fair in a somber overview of the city, regardless of its defects. Agent, Mildred Marmur. (June)

Forecast: Sarrinikolaou will do media interviews out of New York, and his book is bound to get special coverage due to the summer Olympics. Booksellers may want to display it alongside Robin Waterfield's Athens (Forecasts Mar. 8).

Reviewed on: 05/10/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-0-86547-723-0
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