‘Only Stones and Stories Remain’: Greek American (Travel) Writing about Greece

Evangelia Kindinger

With reference to the biblical tale of Lot’s wife (Gen. 19: 24-16), Salman Rushdie writes in “Imaginary Homelands” that “[i]t may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt” (10). I take this diagnosis of a sense of loss experienced by writers in exile to also encompass all people who live in exile. To live in exile means to look back on what was left behind, and as Rushdie claims, to live with the consequences.1

Looking Back: Going Back to the Ancestral Home(land)

Looking back often results in literally going back to the places that were lost, thus transforming “imaginary homelands” to very real homelands. Within the range of Greek American writing that includes fiction, poetry, and drama, there is a noticeable number of personal narratives by second- and third-generation authors that deal with return journeys to Greece. These texts take return, a ritual usually performed annually during summer vacations, beyond blissful memories by indicating the ruptures that can occur when one returns. These works are mostly assigned to the genre of travel writing. As the title for my paper indicates, I am skeptic about this categorization. In the following, I want to argue that ‘travel writing’ is an unsuitable term for works by Greek American authors that deal with journeys back to Greece. I rather want to claim that these works have to be discussed as return narratives, a significant subgenre of both travel writing and ethnic/postcolonial/diasporic literature. In the following, I will define return narratives by means of a close reading of the first chapter in Daphne Athas’s Greece By Prejudice (1962) and Elias Kulukundis’s The Feasts of Memory (1967).

Greek American writing, although “among the oldest and most persistent ethnic literatures in the United States” (Kalogeras, “Introduction” 106), has largely been ignored and marginalized, especially with regard to the number of publications that ranges behind works by Italian, Jewish and Irish American authors. Nevertheless, beginning with Christophorus Castanis’s captivity narrative The Greek Exile (1851), Greeks in the United States have continuously made significant contributions to American (Ethnic) literature. These contributions deserve academic attention because they address issues of white ethnicity, migration, assimilation and the American Dream, most evident in the upward social and economic mobility of Greek Americans, from being known as “Ottomans,” “strike-breakers,” and “unsanitary restaurant owners” to becoming a “substantial, prosperous, articulate and well-educated community” of the United States (Clogg 5).2

In Return Migration and Regional Economic Problems (1986), Russell King defines different ‘kinds’ of returns. He differentiates between occasional, periodic, seasonal, temporary, or permanent return movements and argues that return is not necessarily a permanent move from one place to the other (like repatriation or counter-migration); it can be performed through vacation visits and other time-limited sojourns. King’s categorization is based on the length and intention of concrete return movements. In contrast to King, Lynellyn D. Long and Ellen Oxfeld factor in that return is not always performed. They expand King’s categories by stating that return movements can also be imagined, as well as provisional and permanent (6). Return can be merely a wish that structures people’s sojourn in the place of settlement, or it can be a very concrete act that starts in the imagination, then goes through different stages of planning until the actual journey of return occurs.

Critics like William Safran, James Clifford, Avtar Brah and Robin Cohen claim that return, whether imaginary or realized, is always an integral part of diasporic communities and diasporic cultures. As Robin Cohen has argued in Global Diasporas (1997): “[A]ll diasporic communities settled outside their natal (or imagined natal) territories, acknowledge that the ‘old country’—a notion often buried deep in language, religion, custom or folklore—always has some claim on their loyalty and emotions” (ix).3 I follow Cohen’s understanding of the (imaginary) homeland exerting a strong emotional pull that leads to imagined or realized return journeys, while I also acknowledge the importance of the place of settlement: the loyalty and emotional bond people who live in the diaspora feel towards their place of settlement. These journeys have to be ‘read’ as experiences of belonging to more than one home and homeland, as well as methods of constructing an ethnic identity. To speak with Anastasia Christou, “[r]eturn migration challenges, translates, defines, narrates and constructs new meanings of the who I am in connection to the where I am” (Culture and Identity 15-16). Her argument, following Russell King’s definition of return, also accounts for temporary return movements, not only for repatriation. For Greek Americans (and certainly for all who claim some sort of multiple identity), returning to the places their parents or grandparents left, seeking relations to places and people left behind, is a powerful way of claiming a pre-American past.4 Even if this past belongs to a different generation, the descendants of the immigrant generation feel they do not belong entirely to America and thus they follow an urge to return to their families’ “roots.”

Dispersions: Diaspora and Home(land)

I approach return journeys and return narratives through the theory of diaspora, a concept that has undergone a paradigm shift since the early 1990s from being descriptive of the forced, traumatic exile of the Jewish, Armenian and Greek people to becoming a geographical, historical, cultural, and social concept of human organization that acknowledges, addresses and describes peoples’ dispersion across the world.

Key to understanding how this concept ‘works’ is to consider the circular movement of the geographical, cultural and social narratives of ‘diaspora,’ ‘home’ and the ‘nation,’ that can only be discussed in reference to one another. According to Priscilla Wald, “[d]iaspora names a fundamental (and frequently nostalgic, even when ambivalent) investment in a homeland, a place to which one belongs” (209). Investment in a homeland is also reflected in Robin Cohen’s description of diaspora. Alongside other characteristics, Cohen defines diaspora as a spatial concept that describes a dynamic relationship to the ancestral homeland, characterized by both a distance and an attachment to this place:

(1) dispersal from an original homeland, often traumatically; (2) alternatively, the expansion from a homeland in search of work, in pursuit of trade or to further colonial ambitions; (3) a collective memory and myth about the homeland; (4) an idealization of the supposed ancestral home; (5) a return movement; (6) strong ethnic group consciousness; (7) a troubled relationship with host societies; (8) a sense of solidarity with co-ethnic members in other countries; and (9) the possibility of a distinctive creative, enriching life in tolerant host societies. (180)

These characteristics are not static, but interdependent and fluid, the “expansion from a homeland in search for work” can be traumatic as well; an “enriching” life in the host society might nevertheless lead to concrete plans of return and an idealization of the homeland.

Cohen’s definition corresponds to what William Safran put forth in his essay, listing conditions that are constitutive of diasporic communities such as the regard of the ancestral home as the “true, ideal home” constructed by a “collective memory, vision or myth” (83). This home, following Safran’s and Cohen’ arguments, will eventually be explored by a return movement, whether it is temporary (as annual return visits), or permanent, as is often carried out in repatriation movements. There has been much criticism of Safran and Cohen’s attention to the ancestral home, for instance by Avtar Brah (1996), Floya Anthias (1998), and Pnina Werbner (2000) who claim that there is a “dual orientation of diaspora communities” (Werbner 5) that must be taken into account when handling the variety of definitions and disciplines that work with and about “diaspora.” Although I will not review this criticism within the frame of my paper, it is important to emphasize that while return narratives might suggest a one-sided orientation towards the ancestral homeland, they are much more complex than that. They are a very specific expression of investment in two or multiple homes and homelands that exemplifies the complexity of identity, home, and belonging.

Return Narratives: An “all in one”-Category?

Authors of return narratives respond to this complexity and represent the multiplicity of belonging and home(land) in the diaspora not merely by telling their own personal stories of return, but also by availing themselves of various genres, such as (ethnic) autobiography, travel writing and immigration novels. The genre thus inherently illustrates the multiplicity of return both in content and form. In order to further outline the intricacy of return, in its personal and generic reflection, I will, in the following, offer a close reading of the first chapter of the two earliest Greek American return narratives, Daphne Athas’s Greece By Prejudice (1962) and Elias Kulukundis’s The Feasts of Memory (1967).5 I will outline these intersections and differences, arguing that the intricacies of return are not appropriately acknowledged if they are simply understood as ‘another’ form of traveling.  

In the preface to the second edition of The Feasts of Memory (2003), author Elias Kulukundis relates his writing to the multiplicity of the genre when he recalls the reception of his work when it was first published: “When I first published The Feasts of Memory, people used to ask me, ‘Is it a novel? A travel book? An autobiography?’” (ix). In order to answer these generic questions directed at him, he refers to critic Yiorgos Kalogeras who observed that Kulukundis’s book “‘stands out as an autobiography, a family memoir, a history and cartography of the island of Kasos, a book of short stories, and a travel narrative all in one’” (Kalogeras qtd. in Kulukundis ix). For Kulukundis, this “settles the question” (ix). Yet, in the same essay Kulukundis quotes from, the critic Kalogeras actually settles on merely one generic definition and claims that these “all in one”-narratives are actually ethnic travel narratives (“Greek America” 703). In order to formulate a definition of return narratives, I employ this characterization and point at the intersections as well as the differences of return and travel writing. I argue that the particularities of home(land), belonging, and identity in the diaspora, as explored by return journeys and represented in return narratives, are not appropriately acknowledged if they are read in the context of traveling and travel writing.

Greece By Prejudice and The Feasts of Memory are structured similarly: both narrators are second-generation Greek Americans who return to Greece for a limited period of time, in order to seek and create belonging to family members who have remained in Greece.6 Interestingly enough, both are accompanied by a first-generation relative who has repatriated to Greece: Daphne Athas by her father and Elias Kulukundis by his uncle. Being Greek Americans of the second generation is a significant aspect of their return project, for the second and following generations are often accused of having a declining interest in their parents’ or grandparents’ home, as well as merely returning to the ancestral homeland for the “touristic component of the trip” (E. Cohen 543). Usually, the word ‘return’ suggests that people go back to places they have been to before. In a diasporic context though, because the ancestral homeland is kept alive by passing on its (hi)stories, customs, language and culture to the following generations, even for members of the diaspora who have never lived in the ancestral homeland, the journey there is perceived as a return to something that is very much familiar and not foreign, at all. What is more important is that Greece, for the second and following generations, is the “imagined natal” territory Robin Cohen refers to in Global Diasporas. They know their ancestral home only through the story telling and memories of their parents and members of the community. Therefore, they engage in return journeys in order to explore what kind of affiliation they actually have to this other place - this other home.

Travel Writing: Writing the Other

As already mentioned, the narrativization of these return journeys displays strong intersections with as well as differences from travel writing. Today, under the condition of postmodernity, “master narratives” and “totalizing systems of explanation” (Kaplan 12), such as the nation-state and national identity are distrusted (12). As a result of such doubt in mastery and hegemony, thinking and writing about traveling has become a highly contested terrain. This is due to the genre’s traditional function of expressing privileged, white, often male, upper-class positions.7 Its reaffirmation of discourses of the dominance of Western civilization in contrast to nations and cultures outside this realm is affirmed by Joanne P. Sharp who observes that “Western travelers have tended to adopt a colonialist style of writing which assumes the superiority of the traveler’s cultural and moral values“ (203). The uniformity of a “colonialist“ mode of travel writing has been questioned in contemporary postcolonial and globalization critique that ‘unearthed’ and reevaluated silenced voices in traditional travel accounts, and new travel writing by those who were formerly dominated and colonized has emerged from the margins.

Knowing I cannot do justice to the exhaustive scholarship on travel writing within this paper, I will restrict my investigation to the most important factors when contrasting travel writing with return writing-the dichotomies of visitor and local, as well as home and abroad. Generally, travel writing is organized around the journey to a foreign place. It is the eyewitness account of a different culture, a report on the feelings of being a foreigner in as well as an outsider of this culture. The genre’s autobiographical mode is credited to a self-reflexive narrator who defines her/his identity through the journey s/he undertakes and writes about. The traveler always reflects upon her/his status as a foreigner, s/he constructs her/his self always in relation to the new culture and the new environment. Therefore, the narrator is a visitor; s/he is foreign to the places and cultures s/he visits as “a cultural outsider who moves into, through and finally beyond the places and events encountered” (Kowalewski 9).

These encounters are not arbitrary, though. They are subject to and reveal specific power relations, as they are dominated by and reflect the viewpoint of the culture that has the economic means to be mobile: The one who travels is the one who wields narrative power, the one who looks and tells. The imbalance of power, especially in pre-modern travel accounts, is consciously constructed by the narrator through processes of ‘othering.’ The Other functions as a reference point from which the narrator defines her/his normalcy and privilege. Exposed as processes of ‘othering,’ return writing blurs the implicit binary oppositions of visitor and native and of home and abroad. The affiliation with the place that is considered to be ‘here’ does not necessarily exclude what is perceived as being ‘there.’ In travel writing, as Kowalewski claims, home is the “implied opposite” of abroad, because home is the place where “the traveler has a history and a sense of connectedness with familiar landscapes and cultural mores” (15). Yet, in return narratives, there are no opposites, home and abroad rather complement each other and become the same site.

Home Away From Home: The Arrivals of Returnees

For Daphne Athas and Elias Kulukundis, arrival in Greece marks the logical beginning of their return journey; they consequently title their respective first chapters “Arrival.” The starting point of the narrative, arrival represents the entry of the traveling subject into a culture distinct from her/his own. When dealing with return narratives, arrival induces effects concerning the expectations and the disposition of the returnee: s/he arrives with the expectation of (re)integrating into a culture that is not foreign, but rather familiar in many ways. In travel writing, arrival marks the entry of the traveling subject into a culture that is unknown, even exotic, and certainly different from what the traveler is familiar with. However, both authors represent different arrivals. While Kulukundis immediately establishes the specific circumstances of his journey—he returns to Greece, or more specifically to Kasos, the native island of his grandparents—Athas, in her chapter, clearly constructs herself as a traveler8: Her narrative begins in medias res, when she wakes up on a train that is on its way across Europe with Athens its final destination.9 She has befriended “three Greeks” (9) who are returnees, one of them a guest worker “returning to Crete from a season working in a German doll factory” (9). Calling them “Greeks” indicates the distance she feels towards them; she avoids to mention her ancestral relation to Greece, it is only in the second chapter that she confesses she is “[h]alf American and half Greek” (13). Her arrival is that of a traveler, not of a returnee. This is especially demonstrated by her impression that the closer the group gets to Athens, the more she feels her “bonds” with them are “failing” (11). The returnees instruct Athas on where to stand in order to see the whole city of Athens appear: “‘Stand here. Do not let anybody else take this window. You will see Athena down there’” (11). They also tell her what she will see from that window, “‘[t]he sea…Mount Lycabettus…Hymettus’” (11). The excitement Athas and the “three Greeks” shared while being ‘on the road’ shifts. While the “Greeks” know they are arriving home, displaying their knowledge of Athens, Athas is excluded from their circle and treated like a traveler who needs advice. 

Athas supports this notion by offering idyllic descriptions of the Greek landscape—“the Greek sun glittered in […] There were poppies flying like red banners in the cracks between the rocks of the gray glittering morning mountains. […] There was purple gorse spangling in the sun” (10) – and by describing astonishing culinary experiences. During one stop, the group gets off the train and buys souvlákia, “roasted bits of lamb on pine sticks” (10). Athas exoticizes the act of eating them as something foreign and oriental: “The way you eat it, you put it in your mouth sideways. … It tastes of charcoal, lamb, oil, resin and wheat. It dribbles on your lips. … You are transported into the East” (10). Here, she clearly addresses a Western audience, representing Greece as the East, as a place where the landscape is pristine and food is eaten in extraordinary ways. She gives specific instructions on how to eat souvlákia, what to drink with them and what the best dessert would be: “those bad and bitter apples of Greece” (10). Her narrative voice is that of a tour guide. She is distant and rather observant of the whole situation.

Kulukundis’s “Arrival” is construed differently. He immediately defines the parameters of his journey, the destination, his age, the circumstances of his journey, family history and his personal relation to the destination:

I did not see Kasos until I was twenty-seven, when I made this journey. I have never lived there, neither have my parents. They were born on Syros […] I was born in London, came to America when I was three, and have lived here ever since. […] Only my grandparents were native Kasiots, all four of them. […] After the First World War, they emigrated to a still larger port: London. […] And eventually, in 1939, my parents extended the emigration farther to America. They settled in Rye, a suburb of New York, where I spent all but the first three years of childhood. (7)

With a stopover in England, Kulukundis presents himself as a Greek American of the second generation; his family’s story is a typical narrative of the diaspora that shows peoples’ “dispersal from an original homeland” (Cohen 180), and the geographical and cultural extents of national and international migration that reach through generations. The first paragraphs in his narrative refer to a series of departures and especially arrivals of his family’s movement from East to West. His journey to Greece is a journey “back along the course of that emigration” (7), he traces back the history of his family in order to find his roots within these routes. Next to including maps of Kasos and Greece that serve for orientation purposes for the reader (an element of travel writing), Kulukundis also attaches a large family tree to his book. This genealogy contextualizes his Greek diasporic identity and demonstrates his ancestral and therefore natural, biological connection to Greece. Where Daphne Athas decides not to contextualize her arrival and therefore initially present herself as a traveler, Kulukundis clearly constructs himself as a returnee.

As mentioned above, Kalogeras categorizes narratives about return journeys as ethnic travel writing. He holds that ethnic travel writers are ambiguous figures because they speak “for and through an orientalizing discourse” (“Greek America” 703), always being confronted with correlating power relations between the U.S. and Greece. He also claims that ethnic travel writers waver between being affiliated to one home and one nation, while seeking affiliation to another. In his analysis of The Feasts of Memory and Greece by Prejudice, Kalogeras detects a clash of different standpoints that results in disempowerment; he argues that these writers have come too late to relate to Greece. It is especially due to this sense of “belatedness” (704) that what belongs to their heritage, their home, “‘race’ or ‘nation’ … remains radically Other”: “Therefore, their attempt to authenticate their ethnic identity correlates with this special sense of disempowerment” (705).

In Athas’s work, the overwhelming sight of the Parthenon triggers this feeling of being late and of witnessing something that has long been lost. The Parthenon is a symbol of the ways in which she oscillates between the positions of traveler and returnee. At first sight, she faces the historicity of this place: “It [the Parthenon] shines like the bleached bones of the ancestors” (11). This incident is not solely dominated by disempowerment though. In contrast to Kalogeras’s interpretation, she shifts back and forth from disempowerment through belatedness to experiences of belonging ‘now’ that empower her narrative. The impression that the Parthenon shines “like the bleached bones of the ancestors” is followed immediately by the refusal of belatedness and a feeling of continuity that establishes a connection between past and present, between the ancestors and Athas: “Yet it is in the present time. It is a temple of today. Unlike the Roman ruins which seem like gigantic wrecks of monumental ages past. In Greece it’s the same temple the ancients knew. It’s the same sun, the same breath of wind” (11-12). Although she is briefly aware of the arising conflict of identity, the conflict of being more than a traveler, she quickly overcomes it (whether intentionally or not) by being in awe when confronted with these relics: “It is easy. It is easy to watch it [the Parthenon] spreading higher and higher as the train descends. … It is so definite that it needs no speech. … I like the sound of my giggles, even the beat of my excited heart” (12). She reacts by positioning herself as “the learned traveler” facing an international landmark as if to affirm Kalogeras’s observation that “[d]iscourses about classical culture as well as Western pronouncements on Greek antiquity offer an immediate point of reference for the learned traveler as well as the tourist” (710).

Yet, the Parthenon is clearly more than a landmark, it is the site that fuses the positions she assumes; it is a battleground of contradicting identities. On the one hand, it certainly is an internationally recognizable landmark that represents Greece (ancient and contemporary), and therefore a popular tourist site. On the other hand though, for Athas it is a site that she has always personally felt connected to: “I carved the Parthenon in soap in the fourth grade. I spelled it at the age of seven. I had never been myself without the Parthenon” (17). The Parthenon is an image of a far away ‘home’ she has grown up with. It stands for the Greek ‘half’ (cf. 13) of her life; she cannot recall existing without being connected to it. Standing in front of the temple, Athas realizes she is more than a foreigner to this place. She sees her history embodied in the Parthenon: “I was the product of twenty-five centuries of wonder” (17). She admits that history, especially that of Greece, is not linear or pure but rather one with “horns and curlicues” (17). Growing up, this history, the “totem of relatives and ancestors stringing all the way back behind an ocean and a mountain, down back through a crumbling Ottoman Empire, a crystallized Byzantine mess, a Holy Roman Empire, a classical democracy” (25-6) was simply too much, overwhelming when regarded through the geographic and personal distance. Standing in front of the Parthenon in the present, she claims belonging and ownership of this history: “Yet I am not myself without my history. I am not myself without the Parthenon” (17). In this very moment of connectedness, she feels like a returnee. If her “Arrival” is the arrival of someone foreign to Greek culture, in “Athens” and the following chapters, she struggling against the sense of belatedness, in moments in which she is not merely a traveler, but a returnee anticipating points of recognition and connection to the home of ‘her’ people.

Upon his first return to Greece, Kulukundis reacts to the overwhelming presence of a past he was not part of in a similar manner. During his return journey to the island of Syros as a seventeen-year-old boy, the island appears to him like “an abandoned relic” with “no sign of life,” “a whitened skeleton, petrified with age” (11).10 From afar, the island seems like an ancient ruin, representing a past that is inaccessible. This moment of recognition of belatedness is interrupted and marked by the ship’s whistle, “the shrill apprehension of arrival on an unknown shore” (11). Kulukundis relates this intense arrival to Greek history, specifically to the Greek Revolution. Returning is his own personal upheaval of the ruling system: “The Greek Revolution began in 1821, mine began in 1954, and that ship’s whistle was the signal for the conflict to begin, for images to clash together, between a Greece that had been and a Greece that was” (12).

For Kulukundis, the sight of Syros induces fear of the inner conflicts that might result when the images he pre-constructed back home in the United States are not congruent with the reality of Greece. The images of “a Greece that had been and a Greece that was” (12) indeed clash when Kulukundis realizes that Syros is not home to his father and his aunts, but rather “irrelevant” (13). Without any ancestral connection, Syros is not a place of return. Although he does not further expand on this matter, he clearly dismisses his arrival as “a false arrival” (14), claiming Syros is “a vantage point” (14) for another return, the return journey to Kasos - the center of his narrative. Through the ancestral connection to the island, Kulukundis feels and thus narrates himself as a returnee by ‘making’ the island his own through story-telling: “I began to unravel stories I had been hearing all my life, stories of events which had taken place on Kasos in my grandparents’ time and earlier” (15). Yet, as he further claims, he does not merely re-tell stories, but rather construct them from his point of view, “adding something here and there” (15). He adds his own voice to the stories of Kasos by telling of the ways in which he did ‘research’ on Kasos, ways in which he was able to unravel them with the help of his uncle and the people of Kasos.

He also adds incidents that happen to him during this process and thus constructs more stories that might be told in the future, to future generations of Kasiots. One episode that merely appears to be an aside, demonstrates how Kulukundis, in contrast to Athas, always fashions himself as a returnee. On Crete, shortly before taking the ship to Kasos, Kulukundis and his uncle George want to purchase gifts to bring to Kasos. George suggests buying a banana tree, but then realizes that the phallic shape of the small bananas might cause a stir on the island. The pair decides to cut the bananas and therefore borrows a knife “from an American tourist” (Kulukundis 2003, 20). Kulukundis recounts the tourist’s reaction: “The tourist was amazed at us. Why were we cutting off the bananas? It’s a long story I thought. Where did those bananas come from? He had never seen such tiny ones. Doesn’t matter, I thought, the size has nothing to do with it” (21). This comic episode opposes the tourist, who is ‘merely’ a traveler, and Kulukundis, a returnee. Similar to the way Athas refers to her train companions as the “three Greeks” and thus creates distance and fashions herself as a traveler, Kulukundis creates distance to the “American tourist,” claims no connection and thus fashions himself as a returnee. He affiliates with the strange actions of his uncle who is the native in this scene. Kulukundis even refuses to mediate the situation, to let the tourist in on why he is cutting off the bananas. This suggests that the tourist cannot understand the cultural implications of Kulukundis’s actions, being an outsider, while Kulukundis obviously can, due to the insider-position he occupies.

Conclusion: Writing the Diaspora

As the close reading of certain passages of Daphne Athas’s Greece By Prejudice and Elias Kukukundis’s The Feasts of Memory has shown, both authors tell stories of return. They both represent themselves as returnees, if to a different extent. While Athas struggles with the purpose of her journey and oscillates between being a traveler and a returnee throughout her narrative, Kulukundis, from the beginning on, establishes himself as a returnee. Despite these differences, both authors use story telling as a key to overcoming the complexities of return, as a method to declare belonging to Greece, a place that has long been constructed as another home in their imagination. As Athas argues in Greece by Prejudice, like the stones of the Parthenon, “stories remain” (149). Kulukundis writes that his book is “an autobiography of everything that did not happen” (1967, vii) to him. The stories he unravels are stories of the past, which he brings back to the present, making them meaningful for the diaspora community he comes from by inter-weaving his own stories of the homeland with those passed on through the generations. Although the stories he tells did not happen to him, they are vital for his biography and his identity. Through the act of returning and re-telling, he inserts himself into a past and a culture he always imagined belonged to him, and now actually does. Daphne Athas, instead of telling stories that happened to other family members, tells the stories that happen to her during her return journey, thus also inserting herself into the Greek diaspora.

Return narratives and travel writing intersect at various points. For one, both modes of writing represent a highly self-reflexive self that goes on a journey away from home. During this journey, the traveling subject negotiates home, belonging and identity. In travel writing, romanticized and exoticized illustrations of landscape, manners and foods (to name a few) are utilized to create an Other that is to be contrasted with home and the homeland. It is because travel writing is also always writing about home and homeland that this genre tends to be highly nationalistic, as home is not merely a personal and local, but also a public and national space that is constantly contrasted with the places of visit. Return narratives certainly also represent the topos home, but they challenge the binaries constructed in travel writing. While travel writing ‘writes’ the nation, return narratives rather ‘write’ the diaspora. For returnees, the so-called Other is also home. Returnees go back to places to which they have a pre-established personal and emotional bond. Therefore, they have specific expectations of their journey: to belong, to re-integrate themselves in familiar spaces, to reunite with ‘lost’ family members, a culture and a past they missed out on while living abroad. These expectations are not comparable to what travelers anticipate when they travel to a foreign place. Travelers might have a bond to their destination, defined by interest and even admiration, yet this bond will never be as personal and emotional as that of a returnee.

Instead of representing home as a single, nationalistic space, return narratives, because they are expressions of the diaspora, represent home as a multiple and inclusive space: a web of places that are cultivated through the investment in the place of settlement and memory of the ancestral homeland, return movements and all kinds of transnational processes that create links between these places. Diaspora, to return to Priscilla Wald’s formulation, is indeed a “specific investment in a homeland,” but not in a single one. It is rather a dual, if not a multiply directed investment: in a home(land) to which one belongs, and also in another home(land) to which one wants to belong.


1 The most prominent act of looking back is probably the Greek myth of Orpheus’s journey to Hades. In order to bring back his wife Eurydice, Orpheus descends to Hades, but although Pluto asks him not to look back at her until they have returned to earth, he does so and she has to stay in Hades forever; he loses her forever.

2 Although “Greek America” is a heterogeneous and diverse group that is rather organized on a local and regional level, upward mobility is considered a general phenomenon; see Scourby. 

3 Cohen’s assessment implies clear distinctions between transnational processes and the diaspora. To him, a “natal” or “imagined natal” affiliation is prerequisite to being part of a diasporic community. Diaspora may imply transnational processes, but they are not a necessary precondition. Diasporic selves have both an ancestral and an emotional connection to a nation and culture different from the one of settlement.

4 Avoiding the negative connotation of “leave behind” as “neglect,” I use the word to refer to a spatial distance rather than an opposition of progress vs. stagnation.     

5 For the purposes of my analysis here, I will work with the first edition of The Feasts of Memory. For the second edition of the book(2003), Kulukundis revised and updated “the text to improve the experience for the reader without changing the essential nature of the original” (ix).

6 When dealing with the problematic and much contested concepts of first- and second-generation ‘immigrants,’ I refer to the discussion of such in Christou and King. Generally, in this paper, I use the definition offered by Portes and Zhou who defined the second generation as: “native-born children with at least one foreign-born parent, or children born abroad who came to the United States [or any other country] before the age of 12” (qtd. in Christou and King 5). Additionally, “[t]he conceptualization of the second generation is nearly always with reference to its expected trajectory of assimilation into the host society” (5).

7 Important male American travel writers include Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph W. Emerson, Mark Twain, Henry James, and Ernest Hemingway.

8 In his narrative, Kulukundis concentrates on his return journey to Kasos, the ancestral home of his grandparents—a journey he makes when he is twenty-seven years old. Yet, in the first chapter, he also mentions the very first trip he took to Greece as a seventeen-year-old boy. Accompanied by his father, they visited the island Syros, birthplace of Kulukundis’s parents. Especially the memories of arriving in Syros are still very powerful and therefore included in his chapter “Arrival.”

9 In the first chapters of her narrative—“Arrival,” “Athens,” and “To Hora”—Athas oscillates between being a traveler and a returnee, feeling both attached to and detached from Greek culture and her Greek relatives. Yet, in the course of the book, especially through experiences she makes while traveling to    Rhodos and Crete with her English friend Barbara, she realizes she will always be more than a traveler, but still less than a native. Her narrative develops from a travelogue to a return narrative with Athas constructing herself as a returnee. 

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