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Anastasia Christou and Russell King, Counter-Diaspora: The Greek Second Generation Returns "Home". Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2014. Pp. vii + 295. Cloth $75.

Counter-Diaspora: The Greek Second Generation Returns "Home", by Anastasia Christou and Russell King, collects personal narratives about the relocation of Greek diaspora individuals—intended to be permanent—to their historical homeland. As the title indicates, the subject is the second generation's aspiration to start life anew in urban Greece. Based on a multisited ethnography (New York, Boston, Berlin, and Athens, as well as other cities in Greece) [End Page 252] conducted between 2007 and 2008, this comparative study juxtaposes Greek American and Greek German life narratives. The book organizes itself around the notion of "homing," the "continuous process of transition from one's previous home towards one's ideal or future home" (318), an aptly open-ended approach. As the authors show, certain experiences during the resettlement of the returnees may subsequently prompt yet another relocation, a "return from the return" (235).

Where is home for the second generation whose biographical trajectories connect with two countries or more? What social experiences and imaginaries construct Greece as a home for the diaspora? What issues does the second generation confront in the historical homeland? Counter-Diaspora charts this transnational terrain of mobility and the problem of homing it engenders. Three "results chapters" (38) take up these questions, while the two opening chapters address theoretical issues and methodology, respectively. The conclusion reflects on both the study's findings and Greek diaspora mobility in the era of the unfolding debt crisis in Greece.

A work that places ethnographic narratives at the center of its analysis, Counter-Diaspora reflects on narrative as a source of knowledge, analytical utility, and methodological challenge. Christou and King are keenly aware of narratives as sources of unstable and ultimately partial knowledge. There may be intimate facets of one's life that interviewees are unwilling to share. Memory, of course, is selective. There is also the matter of the interview serving as a stage for a participant's conscious narrative performance of the self. Still, life narratives offer a discursive tool to situate a person's biographical arc in concrete times and places and, in this manner, locate the question of return through time and across space.

Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the chronotope is valuable for the authors, as this notion renders life narrative a key method for illustrating interconnections between the here and elsewhere, as well as the past and the present. This serves one of the book's main aims: to identify correlations, themes, and patterns associated with diaspora's return. Chapter 3, for instance, explores the social factors that shaped the early lives of the interviewees (that is, religion, language and education, family views on marriage, among others) to establish a positive correlation between the participants' decision to return and their pleasant "memories of childhood visits to the parental homeland" (121). Through this latter experience, the "homeland becomes dreamland" (133). Conversely, chapter 5 discusses a range of returnee negative experiences to eventually identify a pattern of reversing the return: "more often … relocation transforms into a process of adjustment, compromise, frustration, and [End Page 253] disillusionment" (169). The initial journey of "hope and anticipation" (169) turns into feelings of "non-belonging and reverse transnationalism" (223). It even escalates into trenchant critiques of Greek people, an "anti-Greek-Greek" stance (204). Experiences associated with a particular place and time shape a person's trajectory of homing.

The aim of the book, as the authors make clear, is not to explore subjectivities in their cultural and psychosocial depth. Instead, the overall interest is to create a sociology of return. The collection of narratives—a total of 163 participants were interviewed, producing "nearly 1,500 pages of single-spaced transcripts" (73)—provides the empirical corpus to understand return in relation to dominant themes and patterns. This sociological lens enables the authors to move from the particular (a personal narrative and its biographical specificity) to the general (pervasive themes or distinct patterns). Once this "thematic analysis" is accomplished through close reading of ethnographic transcripts—the authors call it "bathing in the data" (74)—the discussion draws extensively (but not exclusively) from the life narratives of six "emblematic individuals" (74), whose statements are primarily utilized as typical illustrations that "elucidate as many themes as possible" (74). The return as a motivation to escape from family or community oppression, for instance, is a prevalent theme in women and gay men's life narratives, an attribute that makes return a genderand sexuality-specific process, as the authors insightfully note. Subsequently, statements from specific life narratives are selected to situate lived experiences within this larger process. There is also attention, notably, to narratives that may provide an alternative version to a given theme.

This work contributes to Greek diaspora studies in a variety of ways. First, it "rectif[ies] the lacuna in research on the second generation's connections to the ethnic homeland" (2), and it does so through a comparative perspective. Second, its empirical orientation challenges cultural myths, one of them being "of family harmony and mutual support" (54). There is additional value. Conscious that the search for dominant themes carries the risk of artificially construing cultural homogeneity, Christou and King include narratives that register regional (East/West Coast) and translocal (Astoria/Athens) specificities. They are attentive to intradiaspora diversity, too, citing narratives that diverge from a theme and pointing attention to identities that are stigmatized and neglected by scholarship. As they write, the translocal framework of analysis departs

from conventional national-scale readings of transnationalism by drawing attention to the "locatedness" and "situatedness" of diasporic life and mobility within and across borders. … Translocality is thus seen as a form of "grounded [End Page 254] transnationalism," an optic and a space where otherwise deterritorialized net-works of transnational kinship and social relations take shape through migrant agency.


The discussion offers several concrete examples of regional variations and translocal connections. Discrimination of Greek Americans may not register in Boston, but it is brought to consciousness in Arizona (114). Homophobia in Astoria makes a gay individual flee to Athens, an urban landscape that is rendered safer insofar as sexual orientation is kept discreet (156–157). Moreover, Greek community closeness is seen as markedly denser on the East Coast compared to the West Coast (101). The documentation of these variations—often brief, understandably for the purposes of the book—signals the necessity for large-scale, in-depth studies of the diaspora in its various translocal, transregional, and transnational scales.

Counter-Diaspora brings itself in conversation with the scholarship on diaspora and mobility. It uses the Greek case to underline how it may contribute new insights or nuances to the existing "literature on return migration" (15). Thus, the study's finding that no economic theme appears in the Greek second generation's narratives "contradicts the importance given" by scholars "to the economic factor in 'ethnic return'" (132). This is, of course, a useful and necessary placement of Greek diaspora studies.

But regarding the conceptual design of the analysis, a caveat is in order. The work introduces an uneven dichotomy by construing a dynamic, ever-changing second generation in contrast to what is largely seen as a static and insular immigrant generation, one that "reiterate[s] the ancestral nation" (93). The authors sum up immigrant society as the "Greek ethnic package" (98)—a constellation of beliefs and practices characterized by pressures to intermarry, to maintain a Greek Orthodox identity, and to retain the Greek language. Socialization into these cultural expectations takes place in immigrant families and the community, which form a coercive "cocoon" (98), an insular community that seeks to transplant and reproduce the nation in the diaspora. It is against this narrow immigrant cultural landscape that the second generation is construed as active and self-transforming. The second generation acts upon immigrant traditionalism to create its own sense of self. It may resist the script of the immigrant "ethnic package," subvert it, or attempt to escape it. Often, it selectively retains aspects of it. In this respect, this generation exhibits agency: individuals within this cohort fashion complex bicultural identities in a dynamic and frequently conflictual negotiation with their parents.

In contrast, first-generation migrants are seen as a normative collective, as "'ctive civic diasporic subjects'—the void of their civic identity in the host [End Page 255] country is filled by a transplantation of the home nation in their everyday lives in the diaspora" (93). Thus, the second generation is seen as diasporic (that is self-inventing itself anew, as becoming and open-ended), while the immigrant is seen as someone in the diaspora reproducing sameness—an extension of the nation. The book certainly registers the presence of immigrant families not conforming strictly to the ideology of national transplantation. But as an analytical category, the immigrants as "fictive civic diasporic subjects"—a category that requires further unpacking—is too rigid, as it cannot account for the heterogeneity, high degrees of acculturation and assimilation, civic engagement, and dynamic facets of immigrant Greek America. The fact that the post-1960s immigration in the United States was not exclusively a labor rural emigration but also one of an urban professional class complicates the notion of immigrant uniformity. The book's aim therefore to produce theoretical insights on diaspora return must explicitly acknowledge its operating assumptions, including the aforementioned one about the boundaries of the immigrant society.

Furthermore, the project would have been strengthened by a more integrated linkage of theory and ethnography. While the authors do provide extensive theoretical discussion, several aspects of this discussion, often dense, appear in sections separate from the narrative analysis. This structural choice misses an opportunity for the intertwining of important concepts into the narrative analysis, and certain questions are therefore raised but remain unexplored. For instance, a closer examination of the "third space" that the second generation inhabits is pressing and relevant. This "imaginary homeland," located "within but also outside the reversible dual axes of migration origin and destination" (254), is an important one, which the authors fleetingly connect with coloniality, postcoloniality, and global capital. The idea that the Greek diasporas in the United States and Germany are linked with histories of economic and cultural colonization is a compelling one and requires further probing.

Given the multitude of considerations—age, gender, class, education, sexuality, personality, ideology, personal and family biography—entering into a person's decision to return, it is impossible, of course, for any work to exhaust this topic. What is important to note in grappling with this challenge is that the breadth and depth of the ethnographic narrative crucially shape the scope of the analysis. The interviewees' range of experiences, complexity, and communicative competence are key variables in probing the topic expansively and in articulating and teasing out nuances. The authors address this problem explicitly around the notion of "narrative capital," which they connect with "skilled narrators who can 'tell their stories' in a stimulating and articulate way" (70), in order to subsequently create and evaluate a typology of "different styles of narrativity" (74) in their ethnographic corpus. They praise [End Page 256] reflexive and analytical narratives attaining "a high intellectual level," while they deconstruct "highly 'scripted' narratives that often internalize, idealize, and essentialize 'Greekness'" (70).

Counter-Diaspora undertakes the important task of systematically charting, analyzing, and interrelating several common topoi in the landscape of return. One consists in idealizations and childhood memories of the homeland, patriarchal oppression, and family dynamic. Another is the frustration returnees note in relating their experiences in Greece with nepotism, sexism, traditionalist relatives, and disrespect toward the urban and natural environment. Anyone who interacts with Greek Americans is familiar with the range of such topoi, whether shared informally as anecdote or story or formally in the context of a class discussion or another public setting.

The project might have been enhanced conceptually had the authors ventured to include the voices of a particular demographic, namely, returnees who are writers, poets, journalists, and intellectuals and practice narrative as their craft—that is, returnees who possess "narrative capital" (70). This registers as a peculiar omission given the study's conscious—instead of random—selection of participants. An ethnography of this demographic presents a prospect to explore further the notion of homing around transnational institutional, literary, and academic networks, which would possibly bring to the fore unexpected perspectives and perhaps unsuspected insights. Inevitably, this brings us to the subject of literature. Is it that literature probes territories that life narratives are reticent or unwilling to cross? Bringing into tension ethnographic and literary accounts of diaspora return is a promising research route. Counter-Diaspora makes an important step toward the understanding of those who negotiate transnational mobility around the question of home, opening up a territory fertile for future scholarship.

Yiorgos Anagnostou
The Ohio State University
Yiorgos Anagnostou

Yiorgos Anagnostou is Professor of Modern Greek Diaspora and Transnational Studies at The Ohio State University. He has published in a wide range of journals, including Ethnicities, Journal of American Folklore, and Diaspora. He is at work in a series of articles about literature, history, and culture, a topic which he is developing into a book-length manuscript.