In the past few years, Greece has gone from being the protest-wracked poster child for European dysfunction to one of Europe’s most promising reformers. Dramatic as the turnaround has been, it pales in comparison to Greece’s experience during the first half of the last century, when it suffered through two Balkan wars, numerous skirmishes with Turkey, a military coup, German occupation, and a bitter civil war that ran, on and off, from 1942 to 1949. It’s a bloody and confounding history that few non-Greeks even remember today, let alone understand. This singular book -- part memoir, part history -- should change that. In it, Rizopoulos, a historian and former director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, deftly weaves together his own implausible story -- he was raised in Athens, was orphaned at 17, and yet somehow still found his way first to the Hotchkiss School, in Connecticut, and then to Yale -- with that of his turbulent homeland. Shaped by a combination of striking detail and lack of self-pity that brings to mind Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, the book works well as both personal narrative and political saga.
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