At first, Niovi tries to smuggle her mother’s ghost into the new country in a necklace. It doesn’t work. Foreign ghosts are not needed in the new land. “The only things [the ghosts] had to offer were stories and memories,” the reader is told.
She has a choice. She can go back to Greece. She leaves the necklace with her mother’s ghost behind and walks on, “a new person in a new country, wiped clean of her past.” Without a ghost, she will eventually begin to forget details. What are all the ingredients that make her mother’s koliva unique…?
Other people have ghosts, there to advise and console them as needed. Niovi does not. Of course, a few people don’t. She is attracted to those who do, however. One person she meets at her new job in a Greek restaurant seems to have it all. His ghost is his Greek grandmother, who immigrated here and died here. Remi is a native speaker of the language that Niovi is still learning, yet he has his Greek grandmother to advise him. Niovi has no one.
This is a beautiful, poignant portrait of immigration and trying to fit into a new country while maintaining one’s identity. The ghosts are memories. In this story, the memories take the form of cooking, particularly the aroma of spices, which is often very evocative of one’s home country.
Niovi also sees ghosts untethered to people. Conjured by a collective unconsciousness, they belonged to no one and everyone. Niovi likes to think they belonged to her, too. She sees the ghost of a general who died two hundred years earlier in a battle no one remembers. He stands near his statue or rides his ghost horse around the square.
As the daughter and niece of immigrants, I can understand not wanting to lose what’s gone before, yet wanting to be a part of where you are. How much to let go in the meantime? You often walk in two worlds, a full citizen in neither.
Some may see the piece’s extended metaphor as heavy-handed, but I disagree. The magical realism of the story had me from the first couple of sentences. The ghosts are not fully formed people, but they don’t need to be. They don’t have needs or wants. What could they need? They’re dead.
The narration by Alethea Kontis was easy to listen to. I don’t know if her accents were accurate or not. I went back and forth, trying to decide whether they presented more of a distraction or added authenticity. At the very least, they marked the speaker as a foreigner as the state of ghostlessness might in the story.
I enjoyed this piece.
According to her blurb, Eugenia Triantafyllou is a Greek author and artist with a flair for dark things. She currently lives in Athens with a boy and a dog. She is a graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in Uncanny, Apex, Strange Horizons, and other venues. Find her on Twitter @foxesandroses or her website eugeniatriantafyllou.wordpress.com
According to her blurb, narrator Alethea Kontis is a New York Times bestselling author, a princess, a storm chaser, and a Saturday Songwriter. Author of over 20 books and 40 short stories, Alethea is the recipient of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant, the Scribe Award, the Garden State Teen Book Award, and two-time winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. She has been twice nominated for both the Andre Norton Nebula and the Dragon Award. She was an active contributor to The Fireside Sessions, a benefit EP created by Snow Patrol and her fellow Saturday Songwriters during lockdown 2020. Alethea also narrates stories for multiple award-winning online magazines and contributes regular YA book reviews to NPR. Born in Vermont, she currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and her wonderful world at aletheakontis.com.
“My Country is a Ghost” can be listened to/read here.
Title: “My Country is a Ghost”
Author: Eugenia Triantafyllou
Narrator: Alethea Kontis
Host: Setsu Uzume
Audio Producer: Peter Behravesh
Length: approx. 37 min.
First published: Uncanny Magazine, Issue Thirty-Two, January/February 2020
PodCastle 659: December 29, 2020