- Broken Greek: A Language to Belong
Broken Greek: A Language to Belong is based on the author Adrianne Kalfopoulou's experience as a second generation Greek American living in Greece since the 1980s. Fusing the genres of memoir, travelogue, and cultural critique, she recounts a number of episodes to illustrate her precluded efforts from integrating into Greek society. Frustrated by her lack of fluency in the language, she uses her "broken Greek" as a metaphor through which she articulates her sense of exclusion from the culture, one that signifies "her failure to belong":
[I]t was my broken Greek that has long been the language of my relationship to this world. And its trials, or my trials, have been a result of that brokenness, of being set afloat, broken off and fragmented by my less than fluent command of the language that barred access to parts of the culture as much as it allowed for entrance into the rifts of those worlds.(pp. 910)
Kalfopoulou's awareness of the barriers to her sense of belonging to this milieu imposed by language, nation, and culture speaks to a common experience shared by immigrants, migrants, and repatriates alike. Within the sub-genre of ethnic self-discovery narratives, her work is an example of how contemporary Greek American writers take issue with the theme of belonging and undercuts the affirmation of familial bonds and the idealism of the Greek topos that has permeated the work of previous generations of writers (e.g., Harry Mark Petrakis).
The critical framework that she sets up to examine the issues of [End Page 441] non-belonging and brokenness, however, raises a couple of questions. The first has to do with pinpointing what exactly is Kalfopoulou's position in the memoir, for she articulates ambivalent and contradictory feelings both about her place in and her attitude toward Greek society. Despite her initial claim of exclusion, Kalfopoulou goes on to distinguish her point of view as that of an insider's by virtue of her status as a repatriate who has lived in Greece for an extended period of time. Her "story," as she puts it, "was not about 'Greekness' as a supplement to an outsider's lack of cultural mythology as was often the case with books by foreigners who put a Goddess or God's name in the title after a brief sojourn in the country" (p. 9). While she tries to differentiate her narrative from the problems endemic to the tradition of travel writing about Greece, she nevertheless follows suit in a long line of Anglo-American and European observers who cast a critical eye and denounce Greece for not measuring up to Western standards of assessment. Although other Greek nationals might hold many of the views that Kalfopoulou espouses, her admission of lacking cultural and linguistic literacy inadvertently opens her critique to being dismissed on the basis of her not having enough authority.
Drawing on casual social encounters, Kalfopoulou weaves a series of caustic tales of woe to bewail Greece's apparent inefficiency and disorganization with regard to its bureaucracy and social institutions, whether she is addressing its health care, social welfare, public works, or educational and legal systems. Even on the subject of language, she points out that Greek lacks a comparable word for what is meant by "efficiency" in English, "a satisfactory, measurable outcome for an analogous amount of energy or product investment" (pp. 1112). She recalls the scathing critique that informs George Sarrinikolaou's recent memoir, Facing Athens: Encounters with the Modern City (New York: North Point Press, 2004), which also projects the contemporary cityscape of Athens as a labyrinthine and chaotic dystopia, seemingly emblematic of its compromised political and social institutions. And yet, upon returning from America in 2003, she is repelled by the "ordered worlds" to which her American friends belong and finds that she prefers to live in Greece (p. 166).
The author recounts each "trial" of living in Athens, including embittered conflicts over traffic violations, hiring practices, and property purchases, in an enraged tone as...