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Reviewed by
Aigli Brouskou (Αίγλη Μπρούσκου), Λόγω της κρίσεως σας χαρίζω το παιδί μου. Η διακίνηση των παιδιών στην ελληνική κοινωνία του 20ού αιώνα. Το παράδειγμα του δημοτικού βρεφοκομείου Θεσσαλονίκης «Άγιος Στυλιανός». Thessaloniki: ΣΥΜΕΠΕ. 2015. Pp. 332. Paper €17.

This book by Aigli Brouskou, in essence her doctoral dissertation, was written seven years ago as the results of her anthropological field research on the municipal public nursery of Thessaloniki, Agios Stylianos. It attempts to explore the entire period from the founding of the nursery in the nineteenth century to the present, although Brouskou’s research focuses primarily on the twentieth century because of the lack of data for the earlier period. The author presents a fascinating story with many surprising findings, well written for the most part, and solidly based on copious research.

The volume begins with a theoretical discussion on the topic of foundling homes through a historical and anthropological approach, mostly in a general European context. Her discussion on the handling of abandoned children is informed by the existing (and especially francophone) scholarship on the topic. In the second chapter, Brouskou turns to Greece again in a combination of anthropological and historical discussions of religion, marriage, birth, adoption, illegitimacy, honor and shame, and abortion, but also the legal framework that defined these concepts from Byzantine times to the Modern Greek state. Particular emphasis is given to the civil code of 1946, which, according to the author, for the first time allowed the state to intervene decisively in the family realm (110). In this chapter, the author also discusses the welfare institutions for abandoned infants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in regions that would comprise modern Greece, bringing in examples from Chios, Athens, and Patra, among others, along with regions that are not part of the Modern Greek state, such as Izmir.

The third chapter recounts the history of the municipal public nursery of Thessaloniki, Agios Stylianos, from its supposed origins in the mid-nineteenth century. Unfortunately, since the archives from the nineteenth century were destroyed in a series of fires, Brouskou’s account for that period is by necessity reliant on other sources. Her research picks up from 1913 onwards, when more solid data is still extant, especially the registrars of the institution, of which Brouskou makes extensive use. This early period under official Greek control, following the capture of the city by the Greek army, is particularly interesting because it examines the transformation of the institution from a private, philanthropic establishment with close ties to the Metropolitan of the city to a municipal institution in 1938 (under the Metaxas dictatorship, which the author does not discuss at all), although the Greek state had begun to attempt to encroach on its independence from as early as 1918 (147). The chapter also discusses the traumatic years of the German occupation in World War II and the ensuing civil war, as well as its [End Page 172] particularly nefarious side with regards to children (paidomazoma [child-taking] and paidophylagma [child-guarding]). It concludes with a discussion of the 1964 scandal over illegal adoptions that rocked the institution.

From Chapter 4 onwards, the author turns to the analysis of her data from the registrar of the institution and her interviews. She first analyzes quantitatively the various categories of infants that passed through the institution (abandoned, born out of wedlock, legal, orphan, refugee). Her analysis is fascinating and contains many surprising conclusions. For instance, a significant number of children were given to the institution by their parents temporarily as a result of economic hardship, while in other cases the mother of the child would also enter the institution and act as a wet nurse for her and other children. One of the most surprising findings of the author is the fact that she was unable to discover any gender differences with regards to the abandonment of infants to the institution (208). Instead, the young age of most infants was the most common shared characteristic, leading the author to the conclusion that the decision to abandon out-of-wedlock offspring was taken before the actual birth of the children (209–210).

The next two chapters explore life within the public nursery and the circumstances of the children after they left it. Infants were kept until they were adopted, until their parents returned to claim them, until they were put into foster care, or until they died. Death seems to have been a very common outcome until the 1950s, when antibiotics and artificial milk dramatically reduced infant mortality. The chapters include fascinating details about the naming of the children, their baptisms, the crucial aspect of feeding these infants, which until the 1950s required the marshaling of a network of internal and mostly external wet nurses, and the complexities of adoption and foster parenting in Greece.

Chapter 7 acts as a conclusion, discussing the 1990s movement of former inmates of the institution who wanted to find their roots, spurred by the re-emergence in the media of the 1964 scandal regarding illegal adoptions. The author was personally involved in this movement, and thus the chapter has an appealing intimacy. It is, however, much more narrative than analytical and in my opinion does not encapsulate the very important research of the previous six chapters, as a conclusion should do.

The book, in addition to the captivating story of the public nursery, provides a number of interesting vignettes, such as the fact that the nursery in the past transformed into an impromptu church on the name-day of Agios Stylianos (26 November), opening up to the community that in general shunned it (17). Similarly, the wave of adoptions of Greek infants by American parents in the years following the conclusion of the Greek Civil War (3,116 children in 1948–1962) was another startling discovery (162), as was the gender-neutral preferences of adoptive parents in Greece (280).

As with all books, there are some lingering questions in Brouskou’s work, beyond what I already mentioned about the final chapter. As the author admits in the introduction, this book did not incorporate any scholarship published after the submission of her doctoral thesis—something that has certainly led to some bibliographical lacunae. I was more surprised, though, with the absence from the bibliography of certain works that are closely related to the topic and which were certainly available even when the thesis was written. For instance, the bibliography does not include Juliet du Boulay’s Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village (1974), Renee Hirschon’s Women and Property—Women as Property (1986), [End Page 173] Thomas W. Gallant’s “Agency, Structure, and Explanation in Social History: The Case of the Foundling Home on Kephallenia, Greece during the 1830s” (1991), or Eugenia Georges’s Bodies of Knowledge: The Medicalization of Reproduction in Greece (2008), to name just a few from the most senior and established scholars in the field (although she did include other articles by Hirschon and du Boulay).

Despite this serious fault, Brouskou’s book remains fascinating, well researched, well analyzed, and with often startling findings. Scholars working on social and gender issues or on the interactions between state and society in modern Greece will find this an invaluable source. But the book also deserves a place in the library of every scholar working on modern Greece.

Evdoxios Doxiadis
Simon Fraser University
Evdoxios Doxiadis

Evdoxios Doxiadis is Assistant Professor in history at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University. His research interests include nineteenth-century Greek history, the history of women in Greece and the Mediterranean, state formation and minorities, and legal history. His latest publication is “Women, Wealth, and the State 1750–1860” in Wealth in the Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Balkans, A Socio-Economic History, edited by Evguenia Davidova (I.B. Tauris, 2015).

REFERENCES CITED

Du Boulay, Juliet. 1974. Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Gallant, Thomas W. 1991. “Agency, Structure, and Explanation in Social History: The Case of the Foundling Home on Kephallenia, Greece during the 1830s.” Social Science History 15 (4): 479–508.
Georges, Eugenia. 2008. Bodies of Knowledge: The Medicalization of Reproduction in Greece. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
Hirschon, Renee. 1986. Women and Property—Women as Property. London: Routledge.