Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Power of Love

Christos Gatzoyiannis was just another Greek emigrant living in WWII Worcestor, MA until he married sweet Eleni, the lovely girl he left in his third world village of Lia, while he made his way in the new world. Located near the mountainous border against Albania, Eleni was raising their family in a third world village by those old world standards. When Mussolini determined that he wanted Greece for himself, the sturdy Greeks repelled him. That brought the Germans for the remainder of that war.

Eleni gave Christos four daughters but yearned for a son, until Nikola completed their marriage by filling her womb. She loved her son as only a mother could love an only son. She loved her four daughters, but she doted on her son until he was nine and escaped. When the children escaped from the village, they anticipated reuniting with their mother before going to America. But Eleni committed the unpardonable sin of Communism; she maintained her self-determination; when it came to her children, she refused to conform. For that, she was a rebel and she was imprisoned, tortured, and shot!

As young Nikola grew up, the memory of his mother literally shaped his life. Becoming an investigative reporter, and finally a New York Times Foreign Correspondent, he eventually retraced the lives of his family members and others from the village and revealed how they coped with Communism and outside fascist forces. That journey takes the reader away from our internet culture of cell phones and Face Book communications to a setting where outdoor plumbing was the rule and 4-wheeled vehicles were part of the outside world not yet experienced.

Eleni raised her family as the wife of the Americana, surviving WWII, but suspected, preyed upon, and no longer living her own life under occupation of Greek Guerrellas assimilated into Russian Stalinists--Communists. Unable to conform to their warped values and incongruous inhumanity, she was sustained by the only faith she knew (the ritualism of Greek Orthodoxy). She loved her children supremely, refusing to give them up for Communist re-education, she paid the ultimate sacrifice while arranging their escape to America.

Author Gage firmly establishes the setting of his book in the third world culture of Greek village life. The reader learns much about the culture of the period as Gage re-traces the tragedies of the Greek civil war and the events resulting in the imprisonment and death of his mother.He offers excellent insight into the prevailing philosophies of the time, which controlled people’s lives. The machinations of the human mind confront readerd when following the circuitous routes we take as we try to adapt, conform, and find our own way through all the multiplied circumstances over which we have little or no control

Eleni, without formal education, stood firm on learned principles, firmly anchored in her unchanging love for her family. I found the book historically informative, as did Ronald Reagan who praised the author as someone who inspired him in his presidential resistance to Russian Communism during the Berlin Crisis. I found the reading somewhat grueling--difficult because I react to human suffering. Yet I pushed on, compelled to learn if the author discovered who murdered his mother and how he responded to the tragedy that shaped and blessed his life.

Person by person, Gage researched his case with faultless precision, sorting out the characters and determining who was the one person most responsible for his mother’s death. Armed and prepared to avenge her death by his own hand,Gage met with the Prosecutor twice. Circumstances the first time were too risky, but the second time, the circumstances for his revenge were perfect.

But now Nikola Gatzoyiannis truly comprehended the power of his mother’s final words--not an invocation of what she died for, but a “declaration of love: ‘My children!’” He recalled Sophocles’ Antigone telling the man who condemned his mother Hecuba to her death, “It’s not my nature to join in hating but in loving.”

“That was Eleni Gatzoyiannis’ nature as well,” writes Gage, and Prosecutor Katis had not been able to destroy it by killing her. “Like the mulberry tree in our yard, which still stands after the house has fallen into ruins, that love has taken root in us, her children, and spread to her grandchildren as well.”

With that realization came Gage's conclusion:
“If I killed Katis, I would have to uproot that love in myself and become like him, purging myself as he did of all humanity or compassion. Just as he had abandoned his baby daughter and wife to become a killer for the guerillas, I would have to put aside thoughts of what I was doing to my children’s lives. My mother had done everything out of love for her own children.

“Killing Katis would give me relief from the pain that had filled me for so many years. But as much as I want that satisfaction, I’ve learned that I can’t do it. My mother’s love, the primary impulse of her life, still binds us together, often surrounding me like a tangible presence. Summoning the hate necessary to kill Katis would sever that bridge connecting us and destroy the part of me that is most like Eleni” (Eleni/Gage/Ballentine Books/1983/470/emphasis added).

From Warner’s World,
the pay-off came for me in the final paragraph of this book. I hate war, violence, and injustice, and there is but one power that is greater. Although this is not a religious book, its message of love is powerful. Human love, under-girded by divine love, is the only power in the universe capable of conquering the inhumanity of humanity against humanity

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