The best books set in Greece

Christopher Cosmos Author Of Once We Were Here
By Christopher Cosmos

The Books I Picked & Why

The Song of Achilles

By Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

Why this book?

The Song of Achilles is a story that is, in a word, perfect. And it’s also a story that’s perfectly told. At once tender and intimate, while also being expansive and epic, this novel both adds and expands upon one of the greatest and most famous stories ever spoken, written, and remembered, and even while we know how it will inevitably end, even from the first word, we still can’t wait to get there and be unmade over and over and over again. In a rough and harsh world, innocence and purity can be by turns inspirational, aspirational, and also extremely necessary, and this expertly crafted and supremely touching version of an infamous life, love, and time has never felt more fresh, compelling, and urgently needed.


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Eleni

By Nicholas Gage

Eleni

Why this book?

For many Greeks and Greek-Americans, Eleni is a literary north star, especially in the world of non-fiction. On one hand, it’s an urgent and imperative testimony to a brutal and tragic event that the world and history at large have over-looked and forgotten, and on the other, and a more personal level, it’s a poignant and devastatingly powerful testament of a son’s love for his mother. Revenge and forgiveness are constantly at odds and at the forefront of this journey, which also doubles as an important and specific type of immigrant story and experience. Which one will ultimately win out: revenge or forgiveness? In the end, it’s the reader who wins, because the story of Eleni Gatzoyiannis and her son Nikolaos is timeless, unforgettable, and will leave all who read it forever changed.


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Zorba the Greek

By Nikos Kazantzakis

Zorba the Greek

Why this book?

In my own novel, Once We Were Here, I wrote in a passage towards the beginning that “Greeks have a word for everything.” And while that might be true, the second part of it is that the words we have can often be impossible to translate because a single Greek word can mean so many things, all at once. Kefi is one such word, and rather than try to effectively sum up something that has no direct English equivalent, the best thing to do is recommend this book, as kefi is something the infamous title character Zorba possesses in spades and has become synonymous with in regards to his personal philosophies and passionate way of living life as much as it can possibly be lived.

Does this strength of spirit and culture that’s so prominent in Greece come from the land, or does it come from the people who live there? At a certain point it doesn’t matter, because it’s all one, anyways, and so after you’ve read this book grab an ouzo, head to the beach with friends, family, and loved ones, and dance your own personal sirtaki in honor of Zorba and his kefi.


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Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

By Steven Pressfield

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

Why this book?

Steven Pressfield has written so well about Greece in so many novels that it’s hard to pick just one, but I’ve decided to go with Gates of Fire. This is a novel that brought the Spartan basileus Leonidas and his 300 palikari into mainstream culture before the famous movie did the same thing. The attention to detail, both physical and emotional, is what resonates and stands out most in all of Pressfield’s work, and in Gates of Fire, Leonidas and his men embody the elusive and immortal thing that Pressfield has described as “the warrior ethos.” If you need any higher acclaim or proof of the influence of his work and this ethos on current warriors, Gates of Fire has been taught at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S, Naval Academy, and the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico. Steven was the very first author to endorse my novel Once We Were Here, which meant a great deal to me coming from a storyteller of his stature, and I’m so very glad and proud to be able to return the favor here. 


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Circe

By Madeline Miller

Circe

Why this book?

Is it cheating to have two books by the same author on one list? It might be, but Circe and The Song of Achilles are both that good, and collectively have come to either define, or redefine, depending on who you ask, the genre with which they’ve both now become synonymous. Expansive and profound, poignant and intimate, this novel also both explores and expands upon one of the most famous stories ever told, and when it’s over, we’re left to wonder how we ever thought we could have understood The Odyssey before it existed. It’s a story of gods and heroes that’s rooted in its profound and deep humanity, a humanity which it also shares with all who pick it up and lose themselves in these new and updated myths that are every bit as good and important as the old ones and, perhaps, dare we whisper it, they might even be better.


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