Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Review: 'Evanthia's Gift' by Effie Kammenou

Evanthia's Gift (The Gift Saga #1)
Long Island author Effie Kammenou is a first generation Greek-American who makes an impressive literary debut with her epic first volume of The Gift Saga with EVENTHIA'S GIFT. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Theater Arts from Hofstra University and it is obvious that she understands the magic of theater from the skills in her writing. As is very evident in reading this book her other passions include cooking and baking, skills garnered from direct lessons from her Athenian mother, and Effie serves her story with a generous dollop of authentic Greek recipes.

In a clever ploy Effie opens her book a year before the chronicle of the lives of two families unfolds - she very quietly but realistically follows our main character Anastacia into her apartment to discover her husband Jimmy with another woman! And so the synopsis of this book opens the following year: `In the year 1956, Anastacia Fotopoulos finds herself pregnant and betrayed, fleeing from a bad marriage. With the love and support of her dear friends Stavros and Soula Papadakis, Ana is able to face the challenges of single motherhood. Left with emotional wounds, she resists her growing affection for Alexandros Giannakos, an old acquaintance. But his persistence and unconditional love for Ana and her child is eventually rewarded and his love is returned. In a misguided, but well-intentioned effort to protect the ones they love, both Ana and Alex keep secrets - ones that could threaten the delicate balance of their family. The story continues in the 1970's as Dean and Demi Papadakis, and Sophia Giannakos attempt to negotiate between two cultures. Now Greek-American teenagers, Sophia and Dean, who have shared a special connection since childhood, become lovers. Sophia is shattered when Dean rebels against the pressure his father places on him to uphold his Greek heritage and hides his feelings for her. When he pulls away from his family, culture and ultimately his love for her, Sophia is left with no choice but to find a life different from the one she'd hoped for.'

For being Book 1 of a series this fresh novel covers a lot of territory - two couples, two countries, and two generations. We learn more about Greek culture (and cuisine!), about the plight of immigrants, and about the solidification of friendships - and then we transfer to life in New York and the riches are equal, just different. And along the way we are treated to recipes for Keftethes, Tzatziki Sauce, Pastitsio, B├ęchamel sauce, Kourabiethes, Tiropita, Avgolemono Soup and more - all directly related to the flow of the story.

Effie's ability to recreate war times (1943 and the Nazi deportations), the flavor to the 1950s and the spunk of the 1970s and ending it in the late 1990s makes her book much more that `memoir' type story - It is enhanced historical fiction and that makes of a wonderfully solid read. For those concerned about the title - `Evanthia's gift' is the ring of the grandmother - an heirloom passed down through generations. First book? Hard to believe, but we know there will be more coming. Grady Harp, September 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.