Monday, June 24, 2013

The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos

by Michelle Asbill

History must be studied and examined, but it should also be enjoyed. This combination is perhaps best represented and accomplished by historical fiction. Writers of historical fiction have the opportunity to challenge their readers to climb into the minds of historical figures and re-live the past. Of course, this is an equal challenge for writers, as “there are limits to the writer’s authority. She cannot know her character completely. She has no power to alter his world or postpone his death. But in other ways it is not humble at all: she presumes to know the secrets of the dead and the mechanics of history.”1

In a recent European Union Center lecture, new and up-coming author Natalie Bakopoulos demonstrated that she not only enjoys history, but that she possesses both the desire and the talent needed to share it.2 Throughout the lecture, Bakopoulos entertained listeners by sharing sections of her recently published historical fiction novel, The Green Shore.3 In brief, her book follows a Greek family during the time of the 1967 military coup in Greece. She is able to explore this tumultuous event by retelling the story through the eyes of different characters, mainly the family members. Each character receives the new dictatorship in a different way, thus allowing the author to introduce different insights and points of view regarding the coup. Her book has been warmly received, primarily because of her courage to make the setting of her book an event which has not received extensive attention (especially in the United States), not to mention the creativity and imagination behind her characters.4

However, in addition to sharing excerpts from her novel, Bakopoulos also revealed the incredible amount of work necessary to produce credible and reliable historical fiction. For example, she shared that in preparation for writing she read several books on a particular type of Greek music, as she wanted to be able to include accurate references, if her plot at some point needed this information. Also, she described long days spent in the archives going through material related to the coup, both in Greek and English. She waded through a seemingly endless amount of material in search of new details, but also in order to be exposed to as much information and different interpretations of the events as possible.

With the necessary historical research done, she was able to create characters that fit perfectly in the Greek military coup context. She shared that while some of her characters were purely fiction, others were “spin offs” of other people, with one character even resembling a relative. In addition, specific details which might seem unnecessary from a historical perspective, but are crucial from the perspective of fiction, were made possible from an aunt. She explained that her aunt actually sent her many letters, which not only provided details related to the coup, but perhaps equally important, shared the experiences of real people. It is this powerful combination of historical fact and creative character development which should make The Green Shore an engaging read for readers of all backgrounds and disciplines.

Michelle Asbill is a first year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) degree program at the University of Illinois.  Her previous graduate work has been in the area of social work (MSW—U. of Wisconsin-Madison) and community development (Wheaton College).  Michelle lived in Sofia, Bulgaria for three years (2008-2011), as both an employee of a small Bulgarian non-profit organization and also as a graduate student at New Bulgarian University (degree pending defense of thesis).  Michelle has been awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Bulgarian language study for the 2012-2013 academic year.  Her research interests include EU policies and programs related to combating trafficking and how they impact the effectiveness of non-profits working in this area, as well as Bulgarian agriculture.   



1Taken from “The Dead Are Real: Hilary Mantel’s imagination by Larissa MacFarquhar October 15, 2012, retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/15/121015fa_fact_macfarquhar

2For more event information, please see: http://illinois.edu/calendar/detail/1889?eventId=26388532&calMin=201304&cal=20130402&skinId=6850

3For book information, please see: http://www.amazon.com/Green-Shore-Natalie-Bakopoulos/dp/1451633920/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365389578&sr=1-1&keywords=Green+Shore

4Family of Strangers ‘The Green Shore,’ by Natalie Bakopoulos, by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, published: October 19, 2012, retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/books/review/the-green-shore-by-natalie-bakopoulos.html?_r=0

Photo source: "Old Book Bindings," Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_book_bindings.jpg

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