Synopsis (From GoodReads):
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 are 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.
There is a trend in novels lately with many books chronicling the struggles of ordinary people during WWII and its aftermath. The Nightingale, by Kristen Hannah, and All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, both deal with civilians in France and Germany. My Last Lament, by James William Brown, focuses on the impact the war had on Greece.
I'm embarrassed to say that I know very little of 20th century Greek history, but I now feel I have an inkling of some of their challenges by reading this book. Beyond the historical aspects, this is also a book exploring why people become evil. Is a person inherently bad, or are they bad because of the way they are treated? I found this book to be absorbing and haunting in its storytelling.
What I Liked:Setting:
Books that feature small town life are some of my favorites. I love seeing all the various characters who seem to enter and exit in the background, but who later become significant parts of the story. This kept me on my toes!
Everyone has secrets, but in a small village, most of these emerge over time.
The times are full of the bitter struggles of survival during the Nazi occupation. Everyone is hungry and some are even spying on their neighbors.
The book shifts over time from a small village in Greece, to the capitol city of Athens, and then on to several other islands. The author's descriptions made each place come alive to me as a reader, and makes me want to visit this country.
Aliki is the main character, and her story is told when she is an old woman, in a series of flashbacks to the time of WWII and its aftermath. She has a gift to lament when a person dies. This means that she goes into a trance and gives voice to the dead.
Orphaned at the beginning of the story, Aliki is taken in by a neighbor, Chrysoula and her young son, Takis. She goes through many trials but is a survivor, always trying to see the good in everyone.
Takis is the younger boy who becomes obsessed with Aliki. Over the years, he is accused of several terrible acts. People treat him with suspicion and later seems to become what people think of him. It's hard to say whether or not he deserves the ridicule he receives. He does do some of the evil things in the book. But did the village essentially create a monster?
There are also several women who befriend Aliki over the course of the book. I love strong friendships in books and this showcases how women can bond together in difficult circumstances (men can too, BTW).
Overall, this is a book that will widen your understanding of Greece (perhaps even of the economic problems the country is experiencing right now). There are wonderfully strong female characters and friendships, and excellent historical details. This is a satisfying book.
Release Date: April 4th, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommendation: If you like historical fiction, you are in for a treat. Get ready to pack your bags. You are going to want to visit Greece after reading this book.