Aegean Dream by Dario Ciriello

Aegean DreamAegean Dream by Dario Ciriello

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are moments of pure magic in every life, glimpses of beauty no grief can tarnish, that live on in the sheltered niches and alcoves of memory. This was one of ours. Remember these places and their treasures, that you may find your way there whenever the darkness of the world presses too close. ~ Dario Ciriello, recounting a night swim in the Aegean, surrounded by bioluminescent plankton.


This quote comes late in Aegean Dream, Dario’s story of the year he and his wife, Linda, spent on the tiny Greek island of Skópelos. Sounds like just the sort of reflection someone who lives on an island so beautiful it became the setting for the movie Mamma Mia can afford to make. But read it again. For there is such sorrow in Dario’s phrases. By the time he comes to recognize this moment of beauty, he and Linda have already made the wrenching decision to leave Greece.


Linda and Dario had left behind a comfortable life in California to immigrate to Greece barely a year before. It was a bold move, but not a crazy one. They had spent time in Skópelos and Dario, a British national, had EU citizenship. They were assured by the Greek consulate that residency for Dario would be automatic and Linda would have no trouble obtaining hers once they were in country. They had thought through plans for small business ventures for soapmaking (Linda) and housepainting (Dario), as well as the opportunity for Dario to spend more time writing. They spent over a year in the planning, including intensive study of the Greek language.


Their motivation, besides envisioning a life in a whitewashed cottage, shaded by olive trees, perched on an island in the middle of the cerulean Aegean? Oh, man, I could have written this.

Why then fear moving to another country, shooting for the moon? Life was to be lived, and they knew how to do that in southern Europe, where people had time for family and friends, and didn’t measure their worth by how many hours the worked.
We knew there were risks. But the risk of growing old and having regrets because we’d been too timid to follow our dreams was the most frightening of all. What to others seemed like courage was, to us, necessity. It was survival.

Yes. This. ^^^


A year later they returned to California, on the edge financially and crushed emotionally. The same corrupt and convoluted bureaucracy that sent Greece into an economic tailspin and nearly took down the Eurozone not long after they left, slapped these two souls into a corner. Their only way out was to leave.


We’re all familiar with the “Despite the infernal locals and all that annoying sunshine and cheese, we rallied and restored a medieval barn into the perfect home-within-a-vineyard residence in southern Europe” tale — you know, those memoirs we love to hate: A Year in Provence, Under A Tuscan Sun, etc. We devour them like gluttons, unable to squelch our envy but helpless to stop building our own castles in Spain as we live vicariously through someone else’s dreams come true.


But few of these stories have unhappy endings. It takes a very brave soul to admit when the dream has become a nightmare, it’s time to cut losses, and move on. To turn back and reopen doors which you’d slammed shut and tossed aside the keys. It takes an even braver soul to release that story to the world.


Dario’s recounting of their experiences is vivid and maddening, but fair. Funny. Honest. Reflective. There is so much affection for Greece and for the dear Greek friends who sheltered and tried their best to help usher the Ciriellos into the community and through the maddening maze of bureaucracy that you hold out hope it’s not going to end the way you know it will (and this review is no spoiler– even a cursory glance at the book’s description lets you know what to expect). This is not a dump-on-Greece misadventure. This is the story of two smart, resourceful, courageous, and imperfect people trying to meet a culture on its own terms.


Aegean Dream hurt me with thousand tiny cuts. My husband and I left the Pacific Northwest for New Zealand just a few months before Dario and Linda left California for Greece. Our stories unfolded very differently–we had Permanent Residency and moved to a country where everything works with astonishing efficiency. I cannot fathom a place easier to immigrate to than the Land of the Long White Cloud. But we returned less than two years later, our hearts shattered. The how and the why shall become fodder for my own memoir that I’m still — seven years after our return — building the courage to write. But even though our circumstances were very different, our emotional journey has so much in common with Dario and Linda’s. Aegean Dream was a cathartic and healing read for this traveler.

Others have had it far worse than us, and we count ourselves fortunate. Our trials have tempered us and made us realize how resilient and adaptable we are. We learned to live for the day, and to be happy with little.
Would we risk such an adventure again?
It’s a question we don’t dare ask ourselves.

A copy of Aegean Dream was provided to me by the publisher. My thanks to Panverse Publishing, founded by Dario Ciriello after his return to the United States. Now, there’s a happy ending.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels

Fugitive PiecesFugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I did not witness the most important events of my life. My deepest story must be told by a blind man, a prisoner of sound. From behind a wall, from underground. From the corner of a small house on a small island that juts like a bone from the skin of sea.”

Early in her brooding, shadowy, aching novel, Anne Michaels sets out the central conflict of her principal character, Jakob Beer. Jakob’s family is slaughtered one winter night in 1940; the seven-year-old boy hides in a hollow of the wall, then escapes into his Polish city, burying himself in the mud of an archeological dig. He is saved by Athos, a Greek geologist, who spirits Jakob away to a remote island in the Greek archipelago. During the years in Greece, when Jakob is forced to hide within his savior’s home, Athos fills the long hours with millennia of history, geology, geography, and literature. Four years later, as the German army fled Greece, Jakob is allowed to emerge from the protection and seclusion of Athos’s home into a world broken by war.

As Jakob rejoins the world and grows into adolescence, the horror of the Holocaust is revealed to him. These are the events which he has survived but to which he did not bear witness. Athos and Jakob immigrate to Toronto, where a geology professorship awaits Athos. Jakob adapts once again, adding English to his linguistic library of Polish, Yiddish, and Greek. He becomes a poet, a husband, but he never settles comfortably into the leafy ravines and changeable climate of his Canadian home. For nearly the whole of his life he is haunted by guilt and crippled by depression.

Yet Jakob is also redeemed by pure, profound love. The bond between Athos and Jakob is beyond father and son, it is deeper than brothers. It is of two souls intertwining in a search for salvation, in a quest for meaning that can be found only by loving another so much that their needs and desires become indistinguishable from your own, that the story of your life would be unimaginable without their own role playing out.

This is a lyrical novel, where tangents on Antarctic exploration and palindromes, explications on the nature of history, irony, language, music, are woven into an atmospheric narrative. I felt dull and morose in the cold, hard cement and steel of Toronto, uplifted when released into the warm, lemon-scented air of Greece. Michaels does not follow a traditional plot structure — the narrative flow jumps and twists, characters fall in and out, subplots are left on paths unpursued. She is a poet, first and foremost, and surrenders willingly her pen to the force of the story and the power of language.

Michaels adores stringing together sets of words that shimmer with polar magic:

“The winter street is a salt cave. The snow has stopped falling and it’s very cold. The cold is spectacular, penetrating. The street has been silenced, a theatre of whiteness, drifts like frozen waves. Crystals glisten under the streetlights.”

Or autumnal splendor:

“It’s a clear October day. The wind scatters bright leaves against the blue opalescence of air.”

But just as you are lulled by the grace of her metaphors and the energy of her phrases, she wrenches your gut with the brutality of fact:

“I think of the Lodz ghetto, where infants were thrown by soldiers from hospital windows to soldiers below, who “caught” them on their bayonets. When the sport became too messy, the soldiers complained loudly, shouting about the blood running down their long sleeves, staining their uniforms, while the Jews on the street screamed in horror, their throats parched with screaming.”

Michaels’s supreme skill is using passionate language to reveal the gross burden borne by survivors of genocide: to relive the nightmare and to retell its details so that the slaughtered will not be forgotten.

View all my reviews