|such a great and beautiful cover|
This, you could say, is basically what Annie Liontas' book Let me explain you is all about. What was your happiest moment and was it worth it?
Let me explain you is also about immigration, leaving your home, striving for a better life, a better version of yourself, somethig so inherently human. The book is last but not least about the consequences of leaving and starting in a new place, even if you do so successfully. How does it feel like to be foreign, for yourself and for those around you, your daughters, your family. Can the daughters of an immigrant be ever not foreigners, for example in their own lives? What does it take to arrive.
Stavros Stavros Mavrakis, the man, around whom this book revolves, the man, who partly tells us this story and the story of his family with broken english, and a humour, which is often not a voluntary thing, but just so happens to him, belongs to a generation, that had not much, almost nothing. Growing up on the greek island of Crete with 11 brothers, and for some reason, all his brothers are named Stavros after their grandfather plus another name like Petros, Nikos, Stefanos whatever, only he is named Stavros Stavros, like the family did not bother to search for a distinguishing name for him. This was one reason to fuel his desire to become different, to achieve something more outstanding, Didn't Stavros after all mean "victorious", and wasn't he the only one, who was given this name twice?
"I want to make money," Stavros Stavros said."
Still a boy, he found himself two jobs in the two kafenias facing each other on the main square of his village on Crete.
For Stavros Stavros Mavrakis happiness was very much about money, becoming rich and successful. When he didnt see the opportunity to reach this goal on Crete, he started dreaming about America. When one day Dina, a 16year old greek, born in America, came to visit relatives, he, although not smitten with her, not completely convinced, decided to marry her nonetheless. She was his chance for happiness, his ticket to the USA, but he wasn't ever a bad person. He never meant to use her. Marrying her to him meant, to love and respect her, no matter what, to treat her like his wife, even though she was maybe not his dream of a perfect girl.
They had two daughters, Litza and Stavroula, but Dina was a very unhappy person, with a dark past and secrets lingering painfully under her skin. She could not be a mother at all. Her priorities were about drugs and parties, about numbing herself. So they separated, painfully, and, since Stavros was still trying to build a good and successful life, he brought the girls back to Crete, while he continued to work hard in America. When he met another woman and had started his own business, a greek diner, he brought them back to live with him and his new wife, who was a good mother to them.
Stavros Stavros (by than) Steve Mavrakis always tried to do everything right, he never meant any harm. But he was aggressive, and hard working, his priority was about pride, and achieving more, a better life for his children. Love was something he took for granted, because he felt it so deeply. He never thought, he should show it in a more sensitive manner.
When we meet Stavros Stavros Steve Mavrakis, his three daughters (he had another daughter with his second wife) are grown ups, he is divorced again and convinced, to die in ten days. The goat of death has appeared him in a dream. A certain sign!
He writes an email to his daughters and his ex-wife Carol, who has divorced him only a year ago to explain the situation to them.
"Let me explain you something: I am sick in a way that no doctor would have much understanding. I am sick in a way of the soul that, yes, God will take me. No, I am not a suicide, I am Deeper than that, I am talking More than that. DEAR STAVROULA MY OLDEST,...Let me explain you something: your father has seen some of the world for it to be enough. There is a way to be for the normal society and you are not it. ... DEAR LITZA MY SECOND, please go to church....Litza, let me explain you something. Litza, you have problems....DEAR RUBY MY LITTLE ONE that I have adoration...Don't go marrying losers. Which you know I am talking about Dave. Why choose a man with the facial hair of an onion? ...Otherwise you are doing OK. DEAREST MY EX-WIFE, ....Even though you poison Stavroula and Litza against me from the moment I bring them into this fat country, and Ruby from the moment you bring her into the world. This is why I am asking: you should wear only black for the next year...." The mail has good advice for everybody addressed to, and most advices are not actually too friendly. For anyybody in need of help in interpreting his words he concludes: "If you have any confusion, Daughters and Wife, you can email a response. I will answer them all."
He is dying, at least he is absolutely convinced, he is, so for the last time, he wants to tell them all, how to run their lives. Its obvious, that the family is not too close anymore, and its easy to suspect, that his death-goat-dream is an attempt to blackmail them all into loving him and coming back. But this would be too easy, wouldn't it?
The book is about their reactions to this email, his reaction to their reactions and it is about the story of the family, how Stavros lived on Crete and how he came to America, and how, through his immigration, somehow all their lives unfurled. It is also about him disappearing, after nobody reacts to his email the way, he wanted them to and abut the question, if he is dying.
Let me explain you is one of the most loving and readable books, I have read this year, or maybe ever. It is full of love for its characters, the story and it seems to understand every human foible. It is also ifunny.
And it is a very relevant book, because today, more than ever, people leave their homes in hope to start a better life someplace else, and without being dramatic or lecturing, it taught me subtle knowledge about, how deep such a process of immigration runs through generations and families. It made me think, how happy one can be, when she never needs to ponder the idea to leave home, because home is safe and beautiful and a place to be, who you are.
The book had several side effects on me:
1. I started craving greek food, which to me is comfort food. When my mom was dying, my brother, her man and I would often go and eat at a greek restaurant on the corner of our street, where the owner was a former classmate of my brother and he would serve us extra big portions and plenty of ouzo.
2. I really really want to go to Greece ASAP
3. I started to ask myself those questions daily and so far, have not found the one right answer but many different ones. To ask oneself this questions is an interesting process really:
What was the happiest moment of your life?
Was it worth it?
© Susanne Becker