Mother’s Day: Timeless Photo of Greek Mother Saying Goodbye to Son

Greek mother
The Greek mother offers last minute advice to her son marching on to war. Public Domain

The photo of the emotional Greek mother giving one last farewell to her son who is leaving for the Korean War is the essence of what is celebrated on Mother’s Day around the world.

It is a timeless reminder of the special relationship between mothers and their children.

Taken sometime in the summer of 1950, the photo depicts the deep anxiety of the Greek woman, who is captured perhaps whispering last-minute advice to her son on how to survive the war.

The son, however, seems a bit embarrassed to be lectured by his mother in front of his comrades in arms.

Mother’s Day is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. It is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly on May 9.

Greek mother honored since ancient times

Greeks have a special bond with their mothers stemming from ancient times. Ancient Greeks honored her accordingly as the life-giver, centuries before Mother’s Day was celebrated in the West.

Mother Earth (Gaia), wife of Uranus, was the personification of nature that gives birth to everything and she was worshipped as the ultimate deity.

Her worship then passed to her daughter Rhea, wife, and sister of Cronus, who gave birth to several deities in Greek mythology.

Rhea was worshipped as the ‘Mother of Gods’ and ancient Greeks used to celebrate their annual spring festival to honor Rhea, the goddess of nature and fertility.

Ancient Romans also celebrated a spring festival by the name of Hilaria in honor of mother goddess Cybele, some 250 years before Christ was born.

Later, Christian Greece honored the mother associated with the feast of Ypapanti (Feb. 2). The Οrthodox Church celebrates the day the Virgin Mary, with Joseph, took the 40-day-old Jesus to the temple to be blessed.

However, in the 1960s, the celebration of Ypapanti lost its popularity, and Greeks started honoring the mother on the second Sunday of May as the rest of the West, even though the Church insists on the old day of celebration.

Greece’s contribution to Korean war

The photo is also a poignant reminder of the Korean war, which started on June 25 1950, when 100,000 North Korean troops crossed the 38th Parallel and which technically is still ongoing today.

The three-year conflict which drew in 19 nations, including Greece, resulted in the death of an estimated 3 million people.

Greece, just out of its own brutal five-year civil war, participated in the Korean War by sending an expeditionary force there. Approximately 4,700 Greeks served under United Nations command and saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire conflict.

The Greek contribution comprised a reinforced Hellenic Army infantry battalion and a Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF) flight of seven transport planes. Greece was the fifth largest troop contributor to all the combined UN Forces in Korea.

Fifteen Greek officers and 168 men were killed in action, while 33 officers and 577 men were wounded during the conflict.

The Heroic Battle of Gravia: When 120 Greeks Defeated the Ottoman Army

Gravia Inn battle
The Gravia Inn battle was one of the defining moments in the Greek revolution. Public Domain

On May 8, 1821, a defining battle in the Greek War of Independence took place at Gravia, a village in the northeastern part of Phocis.

The Greek leader, Odysseas Androutsos, with a group of 120 men, repulsed Gravia Inn an Ottoman army numbering 8,000 men and artillery under the command of Omer Vrioni. The battle ended with heavy losses for the Ottomans and minimal casualties on the Greek side.

The Ottoman army under the command of Omer Vrioni, following his defeat of the Greeks at the Battle of Alamana and the execution of their leader Athanasios Diakos, planned to attack the Peloponnese with an army of 8,000 men.

However, his army was met by Androutsos and his men who had barricaded themselves inside an old inn.

As soon as Vrioni ordered the attack, a detachment of Albanian soldiers charged the building. As they entered the building they were met by a barrage of gunfire.

Battle of Gravia Androutsos
The Gravia Inn today. Public domain

The Albanians were forced to retreat under heavy fire and suffered many casualties from the concealed Greeks.

Androutsos had trained his men to fire by a European method; one group of his soldiers would fire in unison, while another group would reload their guns to fire in turn and so forth. This method was the best way to repel any kind of massive attack, so the following Ottoman assaults also met a barrage of fire and were forced to retreat.

At night, while the Ottoman army paused their attacks to bring up some cannons in order to bombard the inn, the Greeks escaped the inn and found safety in the mountains before the cannons arrived.

Greek victory at Gravia forced Ottomans to retreat

The casualties suffered by Vrioni were heavy, with 300 soldiers dead and 600 wounded in a couple of hours of fighting, while the Greeks had only six countrymen dead. Androutsos earned the title of Commander in Chief of the Greek forces in Central Greece.

This battle is considered important to the outcome of the Greek revolution because it forced Omer Vrioni to retreat to Euboea, leaving the Greeks to consolidate their gains in the Peloponnese and capture the Ottoman capital of the Peloponnese, Tripoli.

Androutsos however was accused a few years later of collaborating with the Ottomans. The revolutionary provisional government placed him under arrest in the Frankish Tower of the Acropolis of Athens.

The new commander, Yannis Gouras, who once was Androutsos’ second in command, ordered his execution on 5 June 1825.

Gouras didn’t give him a fair trial, believing that Androutsos, due to his democratic character, could turn the people against the Government.

The Greek War of Independence, which began in 1821, resembles the stuff of legend.

Despite all odds, the outnumbered, poorly armed Greeks fought against the Ottomans, an entire empire with a standing army which had conquered a large part of Europe and Asia Minor.

Enslaved for almost four centuries, Greeks finally said “no more” and launched an attack against the all-powerful Ottomans.

“Freedom or Death” was their motto and, indeed, many gave their lives to liberate Greece and establish the modern Greek state.

Greece Reopens Sport Facilities as Coronavirus Infections Ease

Greece Coronavirus
Greece allows the use of pools, initially by athletes and vaccinated members of the public. Credit: AMNA

Greece announced a phased reopening of sport facilities as coronavirus cases on Sunday remain high, but show signs of easing.

A joint ministerial decision signed Saturday formally allows the reopening of sports facilities may open on Monday (May 10) for training of athletes expected to participate in competitions scheduled for May-September.

In addition to other activities, authorities are allowing the use of pools, initially by athletes and vaccinated members of the public (except for time slots reserved for athletes), and the Markopoulo horse racing park, which will schedule races without live audiences.

In a memo to amateur sports associations nationwide, Minister Avgenakis said that Monday, May 10, will mark the start of a gradual reopening of all sports activities in Greece.

He said activities had been classified as low, moderate and high risk, and relevant health measures would be introduced, which he asked sports officials to observe faithfully.

Greece confirms 1,428 new coronavirus infections

Meanwhile, the National Public Health Organization (EODY) confirmed on Sunday 1,428 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, with 1 of these identified at entry points to the country.

Since the pandemic began, Greece has confirmed 362,004 infections (daily change: +0.4 pct). In the confirmed cases of the last 7 days, 51 infections are related to travel from abroad and 2,309 to other confirmed cases.

There are also 51 deaths recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the total of pandemic victims to 11,029. Of these, 95.2 pct had an underlying condition and/or aged 70 or over. Their median age is 78 years.

A total of 728 patients are on ventilators in hospitals. Their median age is 67 years and 83.7 pct have an underlying condition and/or are aged 70 or over. Another 2,183 have been discharged from ICUs since the pandemic began.

In addition, 370 Covid-19 patients were admitted to hospital in the last 24 hours (daily change: -0.27 pct). The average admission of patients with Covid-19 to hospitals over the last 7 days was 375. The median age of new infections is 44 years.

From January 1, 2020 to the present, laboratories that report the total of clinical samples tested have carried out 4,761,301 tests. Health centers and EODY units using the Rapid Ag testing method have checked another 3,707,257 samples. The rolling average of tested people in the last 7 days is 40,930.

In terms of self tests, up to May 8, self-registered tests included 3,280,544 of whom 82,721 had to be retested.

Greece Marks Europe Day 2021 with Acropolis Ceremony

Greece Europe day
Credit: Greek Presidency

The flags of Greece and the European Union were raised at the Acropolis early on Sunday in celebration of “Europe Day 2021”.

The ceremony was attended by the Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner Promoting our European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas.

Europe Day held on 9 May every year celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historic ‘Schuman declaration’.

At a speech in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, the then French foreign minister, set out his idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable.

His vision was to create a European institution that would pool and manage coal and steel production. A treaty creating such a body was signed just under a year later. Schuman’s proposal is considered to be the beginning of what is now the European Union.

The day also coincides with the anniversary of the Nazi Germany surrender to the Allied Forces putting an end to the nightmare of the Second World War.

“Today we celebrate the victory of the Allies and the end of World War II, on May 8, 1945. We reverently honor those who sacrificed their lives so that we can be free,” Sakellaropoulou said in a statement.

Europe must respond to new challenges

“Just five years later, on May 9, 1950, enlightened Europeans laid the foundations for peace and progress for the peoples of Europe. This year marks 71 years since the Declaration of Robert Schuman and 40 years since the accession of our country to the then European Community,” she added.

“For our country, the European Union is a place of prosperity and security. We participate in its values, in our common European life and culture. We are proud of what we have achieved with our European fellow citizens and we have high expectations for the future.

“Europe must respond to the challenges of our time, the pandemic, the economy and climate change, with unity and solidarity,” the Greek President noted.

In a tweet in Greek, Schinas said, “Europe Day today at the sacred rock of the Acropolis. Greek and European flags together for the first time at the monument of global culture. A unique, unprecedented moment. Greece and Europe together, always consistent before history’s commanding calls.”

Greece’ s FM Dendias’ hails European project

The European Union is a “singular example in world history of a voluntary union of states,” Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias tweeted on Sunday, on the occasion of Europe Day 2021.

In honor of the proposal for a European bloc of states promoted by Robert Schuman in 1950, Dendias also underlined that “as not even a century has gone by since we began this long journey, the path to a truly United Europe will take time.”

He said that there must be no lack of political will. “Large historic projects are built over a long time horizon,” he said.

In an earlier tweet, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said, “We defend European values and promote stability, international law and human rights globally – together, we are stronger.”

A Slice of Greece Down Under: Australia Cliffs Resemble Aegean Island

Slice of Greece in Australia
Pillars, Mt Martha. Instagram @melbournetouristguide

Australia has banned foreign travel, Australians cannot fly to Greece, but at least they can enjoy diving into turquoise waters off a hidden cliff that resembles an Aegean or Ionian island.

They have been flocking to the scenic landscape, south of Melbourne that looks just like a spot along the Greek coast.

Since uploaded at the end of February, The Wanderlust Times’ video showing swimmers diving into the sea has garnered more than 700,000 ‘likes’.

The location introduced as Melbourne’s ‘hidden gem’ is the Pillars, Mt Martha, in Mornington Peninsula.


One of the most beautiful spots in Melbourne 😁 #melbournetodo #melbourneaus #travelaustralia #summerinaus #foryoupage #oceanweek

♬ The Nights – Avicii

Popular among swimmers, cliff jumpers and photographers in search of  shots, the ‘Instagrammable’ destination has been thronged with millennials since the start of summer.

Social media is littered with rave reviews from visitors, with many branding it one of Victoria’s “must see” attractions.

“Proof we don’t need to travel very far for a taste of Europe,” one woman wrote under an Instagram photo of the crystal clear water.

“Glorious spot,” said a second, while a third added: “Major Mediterranean vibes.”

The foreshore area is only a 83km drive from Melbourne, and attracts thousands of visitors each year. But some members of the public have been criticizing the lack of safe access routes to the cliff area of Mount Martha which has been approved as a tourist destination.

Updated signage and the placement of a temporary fence are among measures taken by the Shire in recent years to warn visitors of cliff instability and erosion.

Australia’s ban on foreign travel challenged

Currently, a person can only fly out of Australia if they’ve successfully applied for an exemption from the federal government on compassionate grounds or other compelling need to travel and return.

However, this process has been frustrating for many with online support groups being littered with complaints from people who say they’ve been denied several times.

A libertarian group LibertyWorks took its case to the full bench of the Federal Court on Thursday against the order under the Biosecurity Act that has prevented most Australians from leaving the country without compelling reasons since March last year.

The government hopes to maintain Australia’s relatively low levels of community transmission of the virus by preventing its citizens from becoming infected overseas and bringing variants home. Travel to and from New Zealand has recently been exempted.

With almost one third of Australians born overseas and most barred from leaving the country for more than a year, a win by LibertyWorks is likely to lead to a surge in citizens wishing to travel internationally.

The three judges said at the end of Thursday’s hearing that they will announce their verdicts at a later date.

LibertyWorks President Andrew Cooper said after the hearing that he expected Australians could be free to fly again by the end of May.

“By the government’s own records, they’ve rejected 74,000 applications to travel,” Cooper said. “So we would anticipate there’d be hundreds of thousands of Australians that do want to travel.”

“There’s No God But Allah” in Hagia Sophia Notes Turkey

Hagia Sophia
“There’s No God But Allah” illumination at Hagia Sophia. Video frame

Turkey illuminated Hagia Sophia, the historic Byzantine Church, now turned mosque, with a “There’s No God But Allah” sign on Saturday.

For the first time in 87 years, Hagia Sophia was adorned with traditional Ramadan mahya to mark one of the holiest nights in Islam Laylat al-Qadr.

The mahya is a string of illuminators hung between minarets and feature the Kalimat al-Tawhid, or “La Ilahe Illallah” (there’s no God but Allah).

Mahyas, featuring religious verses or advice for good deeds, are a centuries-old Ramadan tradition from Ottoman times.

The Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power, marks the night in which the first verses of the Holy Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims consider the 27th night of Ramadan to be the holiest night of the year and the faithful are encouraged to spend the time in prayer and devotion to God until dawn. The Quran says the night is better than 1,000 months, equivalent to more than 83 years.

The historic landmark Hagia Sophia was reverted to a mosque last July and reopened for prayers after an 86-year hiatus.

Earlier, this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called his controversial decision the “crown of 2020.”

International condemnation on Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia, protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is one of the holiest sites in Orthodox Christianity.

Built where a fourth-century church once stood, the Hagia Sophia was constructed in the sixth century and is one of the best surviving examples of Byzantine architecture.

After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sofia was converted into a mosque, and many precious mosaics were destroyed.

The rise of secularism in Turkey during the early twentieth century, spearheaded by President Kemal Ataturk, culminated in the transformation of the site from a mosque into a museum.

Turkey’s decision to change the site once again has faced overwhelming criticism internationally. Many view the act as a nod to Erdogan’s base of religious nationalists.

Joe Biden who was the Democratic Presidential candidate at the time expressed his “deep regret” over the decision by Turkey to turn Hagia Sophia to a mosque.

Antony Blinken, then foreign policy adviser to Biden, and now Secretary of State tweeted the statement: “The Hagia Sophia is an architectural marvel and a treasured holy site for people of many faiths.

“I deeply regret the Turkish government’s decision to convert it into a mosque and urge President Erdogan to reverse his decision.”

Also the leadership of the all-powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a statement “strongly denouncing” President Erdogan’s decision and saying that his move “is a deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site.”

The Department of State also expressed “disappointment” at the move by Turkey.

Pope Francis said that he was “deeply pained” over the decision by Turkey to change the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque.

In a very brief, improvised remark, Francis, speaking from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, noted that the Catholic Church marked Sunday as the International Day of the Sea. “And the sea brings me a little far away with my thought: to Istanbul,” the pontiff said. “I am thinking of Hagia Sophia and I am deeply pained.”


Meet the Greek-Congolese Model Empowering Girls in Africa

Greek Congolese model
Noella Coursaris Musunka at the Malaika school in Kalebuka, DRC

Noella Coursaris Musunka was born to a Greek Cypriot father and a Congolese mother in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Her life hasn’t been easy, and her hardships are what has inspired Noella to do all that she can to promote education for girls in her homeland, and to help them reach their fullest potential and escape poverty. The Greek-Congolese woman shared her amazing story recently, when she spoke at the Concordia Summit in New York City.

Her father died suddenly when Noella was only 5 years old, leaving her mother to care for her on her own. Since her mother had no education or resources to raise her child, Noella was sent to live with relatives in Europe. Noella didn’t have much communication with her mother while she grew up in Belgium and Switzerland, leaving the young girl to turn her focus to education.

“When you have nothing, you know that if you fall there’s no one to pick you up. So you have to stand. I resolved very early on that I would study and work and be independent,” Noella explained on her website.

Greek Congolese model
Noella Coursaris Musunka at the Malaika school in Kalebuka, DRC

Thirteen years after having left the DRC, as a young adult, Noella finally returned to her homeland to meet her mother. While visiting, she witnessed firsthand the poverty and despair that she left behind as a child. She saw that there were little to no opportunities for young girls or grown women to escape poverty and she decided to do something about it, someday, when she had a platform and resources to help in her cause.

The Greek Congolese into modeling

She would find her platform sooner than she thought. Noella fell into the world of modeling after a friend of hers entered her into a modeling competition — which she won. What followed was a successful modeling career, taking Noella to great heights in the industry, such as modeling high fashion in Vogue and Vanity Fair. But more than anything, for the young woman who never forgot where she came from, modeling gave her a platform to express her concerns about human rights and promoting education for young girls in the DRC.

Greek Congolese model

Armed with her influence on the global stage, Noella founded her non-profit organization, the Malaika Foundation, which aims to empower Congolese girls and their communities by promoting and encouraging educational and health awareness programs. Malaika means “angel” in Swahili.

“In a way, Malaika is the story of me,” Noella said in a recent interview which was highlighted on her website. “The problem in Africa is that women’s education is not a priority. So when my father died my mother didn’t have enough education to earn money, so she couldn’t take care of me. She gave me away because she wanted to give me a chance.”

Other work her organization has accomplished for young girls and her home district of the DRC is building a school for 280 girls as well as a Community Center where annually some 7,000 local youths and adults take part in educational, health and sports programs. Her latest project includes taking on the building of 9 wells, which will supply clean water to over 18,000 people.

Noella’s story continues… take a moment to meet the Greek Congolese model who is empowering girls in Africa:

Stunning Footage of a Sperm Whale Family Captured in Greece

Sperm whale Greece
Video frame.

Stunning footage of a sperm whale family joyfully playing in Greece’s Ionian Sea was captured by the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute recently.

The rare footage was released in an effort to raise public awareness of the need to protect these marine animals.

The action occurs when, after several hours of deep dives to feed, the sperm whale family reach the surface. The mother, two calves and several juveniles playful interact.

Arguments erupt, but the mother whale establishes order.

The Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute is a scientific non-profit organization aiming to the study and conservation of cetaceans. Cetaceans include whales, dolphins, porpoises and a few more related species.

Cetaceans have been an inspiration to people since the ancient times, when they were found to appear as a main theme on numerous wall paintings, urns, coins, jewelry etc. In fact, cetaceans have been part of the Greek civilization for over 3,500 years.

The word “cetacean” comes from the Greek word “Ketos” which means sea monster. Ketos in ancient Greek mythology was an ancient goddess and the daughter of Gaia (the earth) and of Pontos (the wave). The word is now used to refer to dolphins and whales.

Only about 250 sperm whales in Greece and the Med.

Pelagos has been studying the sperm whales in the seas of Greece -from Kefalonia to southern Crete and Rhodes- for the last 25 years and knows most of them one by one, thanks to the method of photo-identification.

The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales. It has a disproportionately large head and typically wrinkled skin.

Females and young males live together in groups, while mature males (bulls) live solitary lives outside of the mating season.

The females cooperate to protect and nurse their young. Females give birth every four to twenty years, and care for the calves for more than a decade.

In Greek waters they are mostly sighted over the continental slope, i.e. 5-10 nautical miles off the coast. They perform very long dives, up to 2 hours, and can easily be acoustically detected by means of a hydrophone.

Male sperm whales can reach 20 meters in length in the oceans and 15-16 meters in the Mediterranean and Greece.

However, scientists warn that sperm whales particularly in the Mediterranean are threatened by human activities.

Only about 200 live throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Most of them live in the Greek seas.

Entanglement in fishing nets and collisions with ships represent the greatest threats to the sperm whale population. Other threats include ingestion of marine debris, ocean noise, and chemical pollution.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) regards the sperm whale as being “vulnerable”. The species is listed as endangered on the United States Endangered Species Act

15 Sayings Greek Mothers Tell Their Children

Greek mothers
Nia Vardalos and Lainie Kazan in ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movie

Greek mothers get kind of  “traditional” when it comes to their children, always repeating several cliché sayings that make children laugh while setting their teeth on edge.

The relationship between a son or a daughter and a Greek mother is something that goes beyond imagination!

Is it because of the social circumstances of Greek society? Is it the climate? The special temperament of Greeks? Who knows.

The point is, without the legendary, iconic ‘Greek mother’, Greeks would simply be completely different people.

And, as we can imagine, this special relationship comes with some special ways of communication — certain sayings that only a Greek mother says to her children — regardless of whether or not they have heard it before, or even their age.

So let’s take a look at the fifteen most common sayings a Greek mother says to her children:

1. “If you do/say this again I’ll have a heart-attack!”
– Because guilt is best used by Greek mothers…

2. “There is no ‘why’! It’s because I said so.”
– She’s right, she’s your mother…

3. “Wear a clean pair of underwear. Should you get injured and brought to the hospital, what would the nurses say?”

– They wouldn’t pay attention to the blood and to the fact that you’re dying, but they will notice your dirty underwear. But, who knows, one of the nurses may become your future wife…

4. “You’re like your father.”
– He’s to blame for everything bad that happens, including a possible alien invasion…

5. “Do you know what time you came home last night?”
– Of course your  Greek mother sure does!

6. “Won’t you become a father one day? I hope your children will do to you the same things you’ve done to me.”
– Family justice must be served…

7. “Stop walking barefoot on the floor or you’ll get a cold.”
– Every Greek mother has graduated from med school and everyone in the house knows that…

8. “Go on grouching and you’ll see what will happen. I brought you into this world, and I can kill you.”
– Careful — she really feels she is within her rights!

9. “When I was your age, I had already two children.”
– When she was your age, it was 1960 – Kennedy was alive, and Elizabeth was still Queen of England. Things have changed. Well, almost changed…

10. “Call your aunt, it’s her birthday today.”
– A Greek mother always pays attention to events Which could upset the family harmony, and will instruct you to call, even if you only speak to your aunt once a year on her birthday.

11. “Take a coat or you’ll fall sick.”
– Even if it’s mid-summer outside, a sudden snowstorm could always be around the corner. You never know.

12. – “Are you hungry?”
      – “No.”
      – “Fine, I’ll make you something anyway.”
– A Greek mother has highly developed intuition and always knows that secretly you’re hungry but you’re just afraid to admit it…

13. “Eat something! All that is left of you is skin and bones.”
– A Greek mother’s sense of perception, however, is not always overly accurate…

14. “Why must I do everything in here?”
– Hmm… Because when we ask you what needs to be done, you say “nothing”…

15. “Call me when you get there.”
– Even if you go to your friends house two blocks away…
Greek mothers. Annoying or just super-caring? Who cares? We love you anyway, just the way you are!

Greek Author Auguste Corteau Breaks into the World Market

Greek author Auguste Corteau
“The Book of Katerina,” by Auguste Corteau, is to hit the English-speaking market. Illustration: Greek Reporter

At the start of June, Greek author Auguste Corteau will hit bookshelves in the English-speaking world for the first time with The Book of Katerina, his deeply personal, shocking and uproariously funny novel set in Thessaloniki. It’s his first book to be translated into English – and may take readers by surprise.

By Jennifer Barclay

For a start, Auguste Corteau doesn’t even sound Greek. Born Petros Hatzopoulos in Thessaloniki in 1979, he has lived in Athens for over a decade, has written multiple novels, plays and short stories, and has translated many modern literary classics into Greek including Nabokov’s Lolita, McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Why the French name?

“My first book, published in 1999 while I was a medical student, was heavily influenced by the work of the Marquis de Sade – so I wasn’t really ready for my fellow students (and especially my teachers) to find out that the chubby geeky guy was writing about what to them would seem like a whole lot of perversion. Hence the pseudonym, which is a combo homage – to Strindberg (whom I got to know and worship through the films of Ingmar Bergman) and to the French authors (Flaubert, Proust, Sade, Camus) who offered me solace in my achingly lonely teenage years.”

Corteau book sold 50,000 copies in Greece

The Book of Katerina is certainly not “a whole lot of perversion,” but it does open with a jolt: the scene when he found his mother dead, stark naked on her bed, having committed suicide. What’s more, it’s narrated by her, after her death. He was in his early twenties when his mother took her life following years of struggling with bipolar disorder.

The novel has sold over 50,000 copies in Greece. It was also adapted for the stage by Yorgos Nanouris. Greek actress Lena Papaligoura, says Auguste, “took to the project with such wild abandon that by the end of the play half of the audience was sobbing.”

Maria Zygogianni, an Athenian studying at Swansea University, recommended the book to the Welsh publisher Parthian Books, and it was translated into English by Claire Papamichael. Now another Greek actress will bring Katerina to life, as alongside the print edition of the book, Parthian will launch an audiobook narrated by Anna Savva, known as Lugaretzia in four series of The Durrells.

The Greek author isn’t sure what has made The Book of Katerina successful.

“Back when I wrote the book, it seemed to me way too bleak to be enjoyable. But it turns out I was wrong: readers not only identified with my mother and enjoyed her narrative of our fucked-up family, they actually developed a heartfelt affection towards Katerina, whom they felt they knew intimately, even years and years after her death.”

Although it’s an attempt to understand her torments, what’s remarkable is that it isn’t bleak at all but written with earthy, no-holds-barred humour as she tells a family saga of ups and downs over three generations.

“When four siblings out of four end up on medication by the age of forty,” says Katerina, “something very bad must have happened during their childhood.”

Her fictionalized voice is hilariously honest and open. Describing lovemaking with one of her boyfriends, she says it reminded her of “an exquisitely cooked dish to which the chef, despite his talent, forgot to add a single grain of salt.”

And then there’s her description of being pregnant, “eating for ten,” when she’s tossed to the floor by an earthquake. Lying like a beached orca and shrieking, she grabs a whisky bottle. Her husband manages to get her outside and into the car and she swigs from the bottle until they find her parents – “I actually recognize them from my mother’s wig, which in her panic she’s stuck on her head the wrong way around and looks like a Spartan-helmet-meets-Goldilocks.”

It was years after his mother’s death that the Greek author decided he had to write the book as a kind of love letter to his mother, recreating her as a fictional character.

“I had to channel her, I suppose, or turn her into a ventriloquist’s dummy. I had to recall the exact timbre of her humour, the fieriness of her fury, her tenderness and her despair. It was indeed cathartic, but also painful – which is why I wrote the book in white heat, over a couple of frantic weeks.”

For Corteau, growing up as his mother descended further into psychotic despair, as she tried setting fire to the house (with him in it), and to kill herself with booze and pills, the hardest thing “was the stoniness of her depression, her utter unreachability, the feeling that, no matter how madly I loved her, I couldn’t make her smile, much less get her off the bed.”

He admits that he has suffered his own bouts of clinical depression and has to remind himself of the love of those around him.

Greek author is an LGBT activist

Towards the end of the book, Katerina prays that her son get accepted in Medical School and be cured of his homosexuality, although “everyone knows gay men are smarter and more gifted and have tons of girlfriends.” Corteau is now an LGBT activist and in 2016 signed a Cohabitation Pact with his partner, the first same-sex couple to do so after the law was passed in the Greek Parliament.

The Greek author says, “I was born and raised in the old Greece, the same that informed my parents’ worldview. Back then, being gay meant being alone, the target of contempt and hatred. So of course both my parents were homophobic – just as I was. Our education was hard and gradual – and sadly my mom never got to see the happy end life had in store for me. I was exceedingly lucky to meet my husband – he’s kept me loved and happy (he’s kept me alive) for the past seventeen years.”

The Book of Katerina is published by Parthian Books as part of their literature in translation programme, with the support of the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, the Books Council of Wales and the British Council. Acclaimed British author Glen James Brown has written that the novel is “a gleefully sardonic novel about illness and family, and how we can never quite cure ourselves of either.”

The Book of Katerina – Parthian Books

Jennifer Barclay is an editor and the author of several books about Greece, including most recently Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese.