Unpacking for Greece by Sally Jane Smith

Suzie Eisfelder

Smith has a fairly common name, but her writing is the totally opposite. When I unboxed her book I misunderstood and thought she was published by a traditional publisher. She gently disabused me of this notion. One day I feel the traditional publisher will regret turning her away.

What Smith has done is taken her mother’s 1978 travel diary back to Greece with her. She wanted to find the mother she never knew and she also wanted to get back into travelling solo. Smith had been involved in a bus accident, she would never be the same, but she was determined to work her way through the psychological aspects and get back in a bus…travelling by herself.

This book is beautifully written. I read the first page and had to put it down. It was a brilliant first page and I needed a break to recover from the realisation that my friend was really good with words. Ignore that I already knew this because she wrote about her trials with NaNoWriMo for me some time ago. The writing on the first page of this book was next level.

Smith ponders many things during her odyssey. I’ve made note of far too many of them and can’t possibly write about everything. What she does ponder about is Elgin’s Marbles. She doesn’t pull her punches and calls it looting and plundering. I’ve been to the British Museum and seen Elgin’s Marbles. I was quite surprised to find they’re not marble shaped, but are actually statues. The word Smith uses about how Lord Elgin took the statues is ‘hacked’. A very evocative word which illustrates that Lord Elgin was probably quite violent in the way he took things away. Smith and I look forward to the Elgin Marbles being returned to their natural home, I don’t have to ask her I know this is what she would want.

The author forces me to face my own privilege. She does this several times throughout the book. What I’ve chosen to talk about is tissues. For us, a little pack of tissues is a small outlay, for someone in Kifissos, Greece, it might mean a lot more. Essentially, if we’re rich enough to be able to travel the world we should make these small purchases to help someone without such riches as us. Smith also makes mention of the significant economic hardship the country has been through and despite this they also took in lots of refugees, some whom had been refused by a much wealthier country, Australia.

Smith also mentions some of my favourite writers, Terry Pratchett and Gerald Durrell, with a brief mention of the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Did you know that Aslan, the name of the lion in Narnia, is Turkish for lion? I didn’t know until I read it in this book. I shouldn’t be surprised to see references to Terry Pratchett in Smith’s writing, I met her through Discworld. And it makes entire sense to read references to both Gerald Durrell and his older brother, Lawrence, because Smith is travelling around Greece. The Durrells spent a number of years in Corfu, both men write but they have very different styles of writing, with Lawrence being of a literary bent and Gerald being rather more down to earth.

I loved reading the acknowledgements. I read them with the view of seeing who I know. This time I was rewarded a number of times as there are some friends of mine mentioned. I don’t look specifically for my name, I know people would think that but I don’t.

I figure that’s probably enough. This is a really good read, it’s left me wanting to research more and understand some history. It includes a chapter from her next book, this chapter shows us what she did, as a white teenage female, during some of Apartheid in South Africa. It was so lovely to see Nelson Mandela come out and speak to people for the first time after he was released from prison. And Smith was there, at that time. I will buy this book when it is published, chapter one has impressed upon me how I absolutely must have it. In case you’d like to see Unpacking for Greece and potentially buy it here is a link.

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