Rainey-Smith Novel Shines Light on Lost Greek Girls
RAINEY-SMITH NOVEL SHINES NEW LIGHT ON LOST GREEK GIRLS
When almost 300 unmarried Greek women arrived in Wellington in the early 1960s, the established Greek community feared the scandal that might follow. Instead the women settled into life here and the event has largely been forgotten. Inspired by this migration, Maggie Rainey-Smith’s powerful third novel Daughters of Messene, explores the complex interweaving of family and political events that caused oneyoung woman to flee Greece after the Civil War, and half a century later motivated her daughter to return.
Wellington writer Rainey-Smith’s idea for Daughters of Messene started with a friendship with her neighbour Maria, one of the original ‘Greek girls’ to settle here.
“My father was in Greece during the Second World War and was captured on Crete, spending four years as a prisoner of war in Poland,” saysRainey-Smith. “As a result, he was awarded a medal and certificate by the Greek Government in the 1980s. My neighbour at the time was Greek, and she helped me to apply to the Greek government on behalf of my dad.”
“We became good friends and I discovered that she had immigrated from Kalamata in Greece as part of a deal done between our two countries. The girls all had to be under thirty, unmarried, and they came to work in the hospitality industry. I became fascinated by their stories.”
Maggie’s two previous novels About Turns and Turbulence (Random House) are set in NewZealand, but research for her third novel – published by Wellington’s Mākaro Press working in collaboration with Whitireia publishing students – took her to Greece for three months in 2007. Although the trip wasn’t quite what she had expected.
“I spent most of my time in Kalamata searching for stories, but found that people were reluctantto speak of the Civil War. In desperation I caught a bus to the Mani and ended up staying ten days in picturesque Kardymili, where I had the great good fortune to meet eminent travel writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. It seemed like a blessing on the story, and so I persevered with working through the secret and sometimes shocking stories of what was a terrible time for Greece.”
The book has taken seven years to write, and has been released as part of NZ Book Week this week.
Daughters of Messene is described by Owen Marshall as “A strong, fresh novel, dense with closely observed and convincing detail of life in Greece and aspects of its history.”
Greek-NZ poet Vana Manasiadis says, “In many ways Daughters of Messene is a tender love poem dedicated to a place and its people, to the profound bonds of blood, and the legacies such bonds leave us. The tale is both touching and vivid, the unfolding masterful, and the novel's heroines, spirited, huge-hearted and tough (in the very best sense).”
Daughters of Messene will be officially launched by Dame Fiona Kidman – who has Greek connections through her son – on 23 November.
Available now at all good bookstores.
ISBN 978-0-9941172-6-7 • RRP $35