An author’s note on holes in history, a Greek-American debut novel and a holiday that honors the memory of those who came before us
When most people hear the name Napoleon Bonaparte, they think of a short, French general who conquered Europe before being exiled.
Most people think this because of how history has been written, and taught, and spoken about, and it’s not completely wrong, as Napoleon was undoubtedly a very great general who did conquer most of Europe. The other two traits he’s most remembered for, however, aren’t even remotely true, as he wasn’t short, and he wasn’t French, either; he was, by most historical estimations, a full centimeter above the average male height of the time, and he was born on Corsica as Napoleone di Buonaparte, to an old and noble family of Italian descent.
This was a hole in history I first learned about in high school, and then later, I learned more about in college, and while this was one of the first holes I learned about, I kept studying and reading, and there were other holes I found and expected to learn about, too.
But, I was surprised when I never did.
This quote, from Winston Churchill, speaks to another such hole:
“From henceforth, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”
You can almost hear Churchill’s voice speaking the words, some of his most famous – especially for a Greek-American who has read a lot of history – but it never surfaced in any of the classes I took, or any of the books I found to read.
There were more quotes, too. The American President Franklin Roosevelt, saying that when the world had lost all hope, it was the Greek people who had dared to question the invincibility of the German monster; Joseph Stalin thanking the Greeks for resisting the Nazi invasion, which delayed the German march to Russia until wintertime, when they could be defeated; and even Hitler himself, commending the Greeks as the most courageous of all adversaries he fought against, both in Europe and beyond.
I found the cover of Life Magazine, from December of 1940, with a Greek evzone standing at attention with a bugle at his lips in front of crumbling ruins behind him, published to commemorate the first European Allied land victory in the whole of the war (the Greeks fighting against the Italians in Greece and Albania), and I learned about Oxi Day and Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas and his rejection of Mussolini’s prideful and ill-conceived ultimatum.
These weren’t invisible things, and so I kept waiting for a history class that I took to fill this hole, but none did, and I kept waiting for a book to come along and do the same thing, and fill the same hole, but no book came, or at least no book that I found.
So, here was another hole in history, but this hole… this was a hole that hadn’t yet been filled, not anywhere that I looked.
As I became older, and chose to become a writer myself, I kept thinking about this story and this hole as I traveled, to Europe, and to Greece, and I researched, and I asked questions, and what I learned eventually became the backdrop for my debut novel, titled “Once We Were Here,” which was published one year ago today.
Most Greeks know the quote from Churchill, and the Life Magazine cover isn’t a great secret, either, and neither is the holiday of Oxi Day that we celebrate on October 28 every year both in Greece and throughout the diaspora and the world.
It is, however, still a hole.
I think every day about those that fought and have been forgotten, and so I wrote “Once We Were Here” – which I would invite you to read and help share with the world, as well – as a multi-generational and decade-spanning human love story that’s set in Greece during WWII and the events described above, but also as a hole-filling history about how Greece resisted the Italian and German invasions, longer than anyone ever thought they could, and yes, ultimately saved the world.
And “Once We Were Here” is a story about what happens after that, too, as there are so many that survived and fled after they fought, to all corners of the globe, like my family did, in coming to America, and there are so many others who didn’t survive, also, and who are still there, for all eternity, resting forever on our ancestral peninsula and buried in our ancient dirt and soil.
The world may have forgotten these brave men and women, and left a hole in the history that’s been written and spoken since… but we haven’t forgotten.
Every year on Oxi Day this is what we remember, and this year on Oxi Day my great hope is that the stories of love, pride, and heroism of all who fought in Greece during this time will rise again, and that together we might be able to fill this hole and that the stories of all those who fought and sacrificed and the memory of who they were, and what they did, and who we are – we who have descended from heroes both ancient and modern – might then always, forever, and finally…
About the author
Christopher Cosmos is a bestselling author of historical fiction from Grand Rapids, MI, whose debut novel, “Once We Were Here,” a multi-generational love story set in Greece during WWII, can be purchased via The Pappas Post Bookshop, Amazon, or anywhere books are sold. More info about him and his work can be found on his website or by following him on Twitter @XristosCosmos, Instagram @christophercosmos, or Facebook @ChristopherCosmosAuthor
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