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My Last Lament
Cover of My Last Lament
My Last Lament
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A poignant and evocative novel of one Greek woman's story of her own—and her nation's—epic struggle in the aftermath of World War II.

Aliki is one of the last of her kind, a lamenter who mourns and celebrates the passing of life. She is part of an evolving Greece, one moving steadily away from its rural traditions. To capture the fading folk art of lamenting, an American researcher asks Aliki to record her laments, but in response, Aliki sings her own story...

It begins in a village in northeast Greece, where Aliki witnesses the occupying Nazi soldiers execute her father for stealing squash. Taken in by her friend Takis's mother, Aliki is joined by a Jewish refugee and her son, Stelios. When the village is torched and its people massacred, Aliki, Takis and Stelios are able to escape just as the war is ending.

Fleeing across the chaotic landscape of a post-war Greece, the three become a makeshift family. They're bound by friendship and grief, but torn apart by betrayal, madness and heartbreak.

Through Aliki's powerful voice, an unforgettable one that blends light and dark with wry humor, My Last Lament delivers a fitting eulogy to a way of life and provides a vivid portrait of a timeless Greek woman, whose story of love and loss is an eternal one.
From the Hardcover edition.
A poignant and evocative novel of one Greek woman's story of her own—and her nation's—epic struggle in the aftermath of World War II.

Aliki is one of the last of her kind, a lamenter who mourns and celebrates the passing of life. She is part of an evolving Greece, one moving steadily away from its rural traditions. To capture the fading folk art of lamenting, an American researcher asks Aliki to record her laments, but in response, Aliki sings her own story...

It begins in a village in northeast Greece, where Aliki witnesses the occupying Nazi soldiers execute her father for stealing squash. Taken in by her friend Takis's mother, Aliki is joined by a Jewish refugee and her son, Stelios. When the village is torched and its people massacred, Aliki, Takis and Stelios are able to escape just as the war is ending.

Fleeing across the chaotic landscape of a post-war Greece, the three become a makeshift family. They're bound by friendship and grief, but torn apart by betrayal, madness and heartbreak.

Through Aliki's powerful voice, an unforgettable one that blends light and dark with wry humor, My Last Lament delivers a fitting eulogy to a way of life and provides a vivid portrait of a timeless Greek woman, whose story of love and loss is an eternal one.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book

    Time will explain it all. He is a talker and needs
    no questioning before he speaks.

    —Euripides,
    Aeolus

    Cassette 1

    Side 1

    Now let me see, how do I turn this thing on? Oh. Maybe it is on. There's a red light, anyway, a little fiery eye in this dark kitchen. I guess I speak into this bit—hello, hello in there. One-two-three-four. I'm just going to rewind and play that back to make sure I'm doing it right, seeing as how all machines are out to humiliate me. Technology means putting a cassette into a recorder and that's it for me, no comments, please. Okay, everything's okay, though I would never guess that's how I must sound to others, old and croaky, like a geriatric frog.

    Well, then, where to begin? My name's Aliki and I'm the last professional lamenter in this village of ours in the northeast of Greece. That's right, a composer of dirge-poems, called mirologia, chanted at wakes and such. Well, actually, I don't really compose them. I seem to fall into a kind of state and they really compose themselves and just pour through me like a long sigh. Maybe they're not even poems, more like chants. It's an old village custom, one long practiced by crones like me, though, as I say, I'm the last in these parts. And the dead I chant about, well, they seem to linger around me whether I like it or not—you'll see what I mean. The dead never seem to finish with us, or is it we who never finish with them?

    When someone from one of the old families dies around here, the relatives ask me to lament. It's not exactly grieving they want, just the marking of a life. The lament can be grand or small and not necessarily sad. The family wants to feel they've honored the dead in the traditional way before they trundle the body off to the church with that new, young priest, Father Yerasimos. Of course the younger families skip me and go straight to him and I bear them no ill will. I'm here for those who need me and in return they give me whatever they have on hand—a few eggs, olives, cheese, a day-old loaf of bread. Some are more generous than others, but I accept what's offered and don't complain. No one has much cash these days, thanks to the blunders and outright thievery of our governments these last years, not to mention those moralistic neighbors to the north. Well, I don't need much; time has made me small. That's what the years do—shrink you down by plucking away those you love one by one and eventually even your memories of them. In the end, there's a lot less of you.

    I dress only in black, once the custom for widows and crones. It's still my custom. My head scarf too is black and when I go out, I draw the corner of it across my nose and mouth to hide my bad teeth. I look like a storybook witch. The girl I was on the day the Germans executed my father wouldn't recognize the crone I've become.

    Speaking of my father, I saw him again this morning standing in my back garden. He fished a cigarette out of the shirt pocket next to the blackened bullet holes in his chest and lit up. There wasn't much point in telling him that smoking is bad for him as he's been dead for more than fifty years. So there he was, saying again between puffs that things over there were not much different from here. Of course I'm not sure I believe in an over there, but when the dead turn up, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    We stand around all the time talking politics, he said. Everyone speaks at once, interrupting and yelling, and nobody agrees on anything. It's just like life.

    It was back in '43 that the Germans executed him along with two other village men. Made them stand next to the stone wall under...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 10, 2017
    In 1943, Greece was under German control. The effects of the occupation were felt for years, as Aliki dutifully recounts onto cassette tapes in her father’s house. Brown’s (Blood Dance) second novel delves into the life of Aliki as she agrees to help a young American ethnographer learn about the Greek art of dirge-poems, though the attempt to teach quickly becomes a study of Aliki’s past. Her life was set by the pace of war and dotted with its consequences: her father was executed by the Germans; she made new friends with Jews who were in need of hiding places; she watched as her village was burned; and then, still a child, she set out for new life in Athens with her friends Stelios and Takis, who would be come her own definition of family. The three travel throughout Greece; as civil war breaks out, they find work as puppeteers, anchoring themselves in the familiar stories of Karagiozis. They find good fortune in friends made along the way. As their time together ends, Aliki is left with a story that becomes her own lament. Though the language is at times too simplistic, Brown tells a beautiful story about life, war, and love.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2017
    Three youngsters--a deranged child, a Jewish survivor, and a singer of laments--endure the terrors of World War II Greece and the equally savage civil war that follows.Revisiting the Greek culture and history explored in his first novel, Brown (Blood Dance, 1993) devotes his second to the brutal events, both imposed and self-inflicted, in that country during the mid-20th century. The story is narrated into a tape recorder left in the possession of an old woman, Aliki, by a Greek-American scholar researching "rural lament practices." But Aliki, the last professional lamenter--a singer of dirges following someone's death--in her northeastern Greek village, uses most of the tape to relate the dark events of her teenage years. After the occupying Nazi forces shot her father in 1943, she was taken in by a kindly neighbor, Chrysoula. But Chrysoula is hiding two Jewish refugees in her cellar, teenage Stelios and his mother, Sophia. When the Germans discover them--perhaps tipped off by Takis, Chrysoula's son--a melee ensues during which both Sophia and Chrysoula are killed. Now Stelios, Aliki, and Takis leave for Athens, beginning a long, episodic journey of love and survival, funded by the shadow-puppet performances they give. Takis, a jealous child of 11, appears unhinged, perhaps schizophrenic, or maybe he's a violent sprite, emblematic of the madness that has descended on the divided nation; Aliki has a seer's gifts in her lamenting skills; while Stelios' role is both puppeteer and conduit to history and literature (notably The Iliad). Events come thick and fast--guerilla attacks, abduction, imprisonment, death--but the restless plot, shifting locations, and heaping up of suffering become overwhelming, fragmenting the overall impact. A respectful but hectic tale of national collapse and grief that falls short of epic emotional resonance.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2017

    Aliki is a self-described old crone, the last of a fading breed of lamenters: professional mourners who remember the dead by composing a poem of the deceased's life. Using cassette tapes left by an American researcher, Aliki is supposed to be recording her laments but instead recollects the story of her tumultuous and tragic life in post-World War II Greece. Brown (Blood Dance) crafts an oral history of "three musketeers" caught up in violent events beyond their understanding. Takis, a mentally ill boy, whom Aliki loves like a brother, and Stelios, a Jew hiding in Takis's house during the war, are constantly at odds. Aliki, forced to grow up before her time, must choose again and again between her duty to Takis and her love for Stelios. The trio move from a rural Greek village to Athens to Crete, using the ancient Greek art of shadow theater to make a living in a country plagued by starvation and guerrilla warfare. VERDICT Fans of Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and Jenna Blum's Those Who Save Us will appreciate the complex and intertwined story of three youths haunted by secrets and the tragedy of war. [See "Editors' Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/16.]--Christine Barth, Scott Cty. Lib. Syst., IA

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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My Last Lament
James William Brown
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