A very truthful, bold, realistic and sincere account of a personal emotional and spiritual journey, a “perspective” into the harsh, inescapable reality of the Greek American heritage.
“Peter, urges us to face our past, present and future, in order to find these values that each one of us cherishes the most, hold onto them and get back to the game with renewed self-confidence. And if we lose ourselves in the process, temporarily or permanently, it may be worthwhile to risk – all of it.”
Tassos Theodoridis, The Greek Press, Toronto, Canada.
Peter Manouselis’ book “Perspective - A Greek American finding his way in Greece” is not a plain travel memoir, as its author claims it to be. Usually, travel memoirs superimpose an impressionistic painting on the familiar canvas of a less or more explored landscape, metaphorically speaking. Yet, this story on the struggles to set at ease the restless duality of your personality (duality as in being born and bred in a country other than your parents), as this young Greek American person attests to, goes well beyond the narrative of everyday events in the land of your parents, on to bizarre explorations of different perspectives of life. I would dare change the title to “Perspectives – A Greek American finding his place in the world through Greece” as will explain below.
Peter has left behind a successful career as an investment banker and close to a quarter million spent dollars from his work to return back to his parents’ homeland in order to pay his dues. When he lands in Crete Greece, his parents’ homeland, he leads an isolated life, despite his attempts at socializing at the nearby towns, struggles with wilderness while herding his dad’s goats and drowns in the deep waters of a harsh rural life in his fathers’ remote village; all this under the strict surveillance and mentorship of his long estranged father. He enlists to serve in the Army, “dives” into questionable relationships (questionable as per his stated, versus real motives) and “floats” on the surface of a sea of pleasant family reunions, while questioning rather than stating that he is “more Greek than American” (Later he keeps reiterating the exact opposite, that he is more American than Greek.) He genuinely intends to explore and hold dear all that he finds in his ancestral land, the people, their rituals, their customs, etc., as a form of “trophy” that will reflect his pride of being Greek. After all, if he who has left all success (per society’s measures) behind to be accepted as a Greek is not worth of the “trophy” that of his father’s praise, then who is?
Well, in this case Peter Manouselis seems to have paid a hefty price for the mere recognition of being Greek: Despite the apparent sacrifice in time and money, he ends up disappointed and disheartened while realizing he would rather be an American than a Greek. When people asked him at the beginning of his stay if he were Greek or American, he insisted on declaring “I am Greek”. As the story progresses and time takes its toll on Peter’s determination, along with his father’s disapproval of him, our protagonist starts believing and declaring that he is an “American”. What happened in-between? Did he lose faith in his heritage? Did his relationship with his father hijack his determination to fight for the right to a dual identity? Did he lose faith in himself? Did his father fail him once more, after been missing from the family table for the years that Peter was growing up, by simply ignoring his pleas for real affection and love? On the other hand again, maybe, Peter’s relationship with his father was as good as it could possibly get, under the circumstances and Peter couldn’t have a better mentor, other than his father? Again here, the reader’s perspective is important, apart from Peter’s. And this perspective is what enriches the story and adds interactivity with the plot.
Peter’s writing seems to be a plain account of facts, yet simple it is not; instead, it ranges from literary accounts of everyday events jotted down in diary form up to convoluted thoughts on deep philosophical issues that arise on the occasion of life events and/or controversies. Peter Manouselis is well aware of the place, people and time that he has chosen to return to (Crete) and treats them with the respect and care they deserve. After all, this is the land and people that Nikos Kazantzakis – the great Cretan Author – has idolized as archetypes for eternity’s sake.
Indeed, as most people of dual heritage will attest, it is quite complicated to have grown up, gone to school and lived your life in a country like the United States of America under the weight and/or burden of an ancestry for which you have no clue; so imagine what happens if you embrace your worst fears, by leaving everything behind, un-learning what you already know and having to face a negative and judgmental father, for the sake of fulfilling your dreams. In Peter’s case, despite the apparent lack in respect, appreciation and affection in his relationship with an unemotional father, he failed to find ways of communicating with him, but still managed to convey his fears, criticism and world view. But how is a son supposed to enter his father’s world when this father with whom he wishes he had a deeper bonding, in reality undermines all his attempts to bond?
Under Peter’s perspective, a father who has lived in the States for 20 years or so and has not even learned the language, sends a clear message of rejecting his son’s dual heritage. And what happens when your father openly criticizes your every move and accomplishment, except when you follow his instructions? Does this affect the way you see yourself? Does it alter your determination and persistence to succeed? Peter tries hard to fit in as a Greek, when he first lands in Crete, perhaps fearing his father’s rejection of his choices. On the other hand, the father tries all his usual belittlement tricks by diminishing his son’s accomplishments thus far and by treating him like a teenager who needs a good lesson in order to learn to make the right decisions in life, but in the end manages to demonstrate a pathetic self-indulgence and stubbornness, that isolates Peter – finally exonerated in front of us. So, condemn the father for the son’s failed attempts at settling roots in Crete? Or maybe, under a different perspective the son was the one to blame for the break up in communication? We suspect that it was Peter who never intended to settle down in his parental land, and just out of curiosity came back to “set the record straight” by paying all his dues – but that is another perspective altogether.
On the other side of things, take the father’s perspective. You watch your son kick away his future by quitting his successful career to come live with you to herd the goats and try to adjust to the harsh Cretan life. You can’t understand his language or follow his thoughts precisely. You need to discipline him in the only way you consider success is achieved in life – belittling and humiliating him - until he can stubbornly rise over his own weaknesses and leverage the adverse situations. Yet, he seems hostile and doesn’t appreciate your efforts; he insults you; shows no appreciation of your expertise or/and life experiences. How can you feel for, and in your way, bond with this son of yours?
I guess, what I am trying to get at here is that this “travel memoir” is not what it seems to be at first glance, but instead, it invites us to add our “perspective” in order to interpret the story beyond a superficial first reading. Peter’s story (which attracts you to read it in one sitting) may equally be a delightfully realistic account of a young person trying to have fun in a fun-less situation by experimenting on his future in the wake of maturity; it can also be a painful submersion in the deep sea of suppressed memories, thoughts, beliefs and personality traits of a protagonist, who has undertaken this monumental life-saving (or life-wrecking) dive into his heritage to try and find recognition and value. At times, the father, who might serve as a lifeboat for the son (if there was reciprocal bonding, respect and love), becomes a source of trouble, and at times causes a flood of catastrophic and self-condemning guilt to the author, interrupted by isolated incidents of bonding and rapport. Other times, the father seems approving and accepting of the son’s accomplishments and decisions, but immediately hurries to ruin everything with a judgmental or ironic comment.
Having stated my “perspective”, I found Peter Manouselis’ travel memoir way more complicated than a simple observation and account of the places, people and situations he encountered while diving into his ocean of challenges. In the end, it takes a lot of courage to step out of the torrent of your life and try to come to terms with your past, present and future. It’s a gambling bet, one that an investing banker, like the author, knows well: You may lose some of your valuable assets, but if you lose self-confidence, only then, the game is lost for you. Peter, urges us to face our past, present and future, in order to find these values that each one of us cherishes the most, hold onto them and get back to the game with renewed self-confidence. And if we lose ourselves in the process, temporarily or permanently, it may be worthwhile to risk – all of it.
Overall Peter Manouselis’ book is a very truthful, bold, realistic and sincere account of a personal emotional and spiritual journey, a “perspective” into the harsh inescapable reality of his heritage. A must read for the possibility to see it under different perspectives while exploring your dual (or not) heritage!!!