Quick. What do Donald Trump and many right-wing politicians in Greece have in common? Answer: they both seek to attract attention to themselves and deflect attention from other pressing national problems by focusing on the issue of illegal immigration.
This is just one of the insights I gained from reading The Full Catastrophe: Travel Among the New Greek Ruins, by James Angelos (Crown Publishers, 2015). Angelos, an American journalist whose parents are Greek, has published with this volume a pertinent and insightful evaluation of the current situation in Greece, where overwhelming debt and a faltering economy have brought the future of the entire European Union and its currency into question.
I won’t pretend to understand or explain all the economic and political considerations at play in the modern drama that is Greece. I will instead refer you to this excellent book, which goes a long way towards making obscure headlines immediate and personal. Through a series of vignettes that look at everything from pension fraud to tax evasion to illegal immigration, Angelos takes the reader on a thoughtful and clearly explained journey through the contemporary Greek landscape. He uses interviews with a wide variety of Greeks, from top politicians to recent Somalian refugees, to paint a picture of a country struggling to reconcile deeply embedded cultural beliefs and practices, strongly felt views about historical events, and the expectations of the greater European and world community.
I have often pointed out on this blog that I believe we would function better as a society if we truly understood our history. This book makes a strong case for the importance of that in every part of the world. For example, while I knew from a cursory reading of the headlines that there was a deep animosity between Greek borrowers and their predominantly German creditors, I didn’t necessarily grasp how much of that is informed by a strong sense that Germany has still not apologized sufficiently, nor made amends for, atrocities committed during World War II. That the Greek right-wing party I alluded to earlier, Golden Dawn, adopts many Nazi symbols and beliefs as part of its platform is a reminder that we ignore the past at our peril.
I picked up this book because I am fascinated by other countries and cultures. I wouldn’t call it a travel book, though it does give you an excellent feel for present-day Greek life and culture beyond the tourist attractions. Angelos’ Greek background lends it a particular sympathy and understanding that makes the book an important supplement to random headlines. If you have an interest in Europe, politics, economics, or just how other people view the world, I strongly recommend it.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.