“OUT OF ARCADIA” by Nicholas D. Kokonis
(St. Basilʼs Publishers, P.O. Box 1155, Deerfield, IL 60015)
I had recently the good fortune to read Nicholas Kokonisʼ new novel “Out of Arcadia,” a sequel to his award-winning “Arcadia, my Arcadia.” Despite its length, over 420 pages, I found this book an absorbing, compassionate and compelling story of a young Greek immigrant, looking for the Promised Land in the 1960s. The hero, Angelo Vlachos, portrays one of the best pictures of post-WW II immigration of Greeks to the United States. His tenacity and perseverance to achieve his goal, i.e. to get a college education at an American University, is the manifestation of the secret dream harbored by thousands of Greeks that came to America for the same purpose.
Most of us have heard stories similar to the one presented by the author, however, Dr. Kokonis has the ability to tell his story in such a way that absorbs the reader, who wants to find what comes next and how the hero is going to overcome the next obstacle. Seen in a different way Angeloʼs story is the story of the second immigrant wave of the 1960s and 1970s, where getting rich was not the main objective as it was in the early 1900s. The new immigrant wave was equally intent in making a living, but also going to college to get an education. Angelo Vlachos struggled to achieve both in an admirable way. He had the inner strength to sacrifice himself in the altar of family values and education. Thus the author depicts us a young hero that no longer exists, thanks to the social and economic advancements in Greece during the last thirty years. I have not heard of any similar cases of Greek immigrants lately. Most students who come for studies in the USA lately have some family support and almost no one is expected to support his family there and at the same time to get a higher education degree here.
The Greek American Community has many books dealing with the early immigrant experience, which was extremely harsh and its heroes struggled for their daily survival and then to help their families at home. Their education was usually that of the Elementary School and their goal to make a few bucks and raise a healthy family. There are dozens of books describing this struggle during that early period. Kokonisʼ book is the best depiction of the post-war immigrant experience and there are not many books dealing with that period and that crucial topic. Thus Angelo Vlachosʼ story is a Modern Greek odyssey, where the new Ulysses has to overcome a good number of obstacles before he reaches Ithaca. His journey is quite long and the other supportive characters show the many facets of the Greek American Community at that time. They show those sweating in the restaurants, the coffee shops and dry-cleaners or in taverns and offices, trying to earn an honest living. In the end most of them find their respective Ithaca: Barba Dino, Simio, and Irini with her family, and finally, our hero, himself. His many trials and tribulations do not bend him. On the contrary, they make him stronger and in the end his long and arduous journey is rewarded in the impeccable persona of Irini, who is a modern day Penelope. And that is another great plus of this appealing story. It is the story for something nobler, something higher than our mundane needs and in the end all these high aspirations and personal and family expectations are getting fulfilled. And the fulfillment fits so well with the topography and historical background of our hero, Angelo Vlachos, and the writer himself.
Coming from the high mountains of picturesque and legendary Arcadia, where life is filled with extremely high demands for daily survival, the hero becomes the epitome of that indomitable spirit of thousands of Arcadian immigrants who arrived to thrive in America. Dr. Kokonis offers the best depiction, through his main character, of that Arcadian spirit and becomes the light to the future immigrants of how to endure, how to fight and how to persevere in order to attain their own ultimate success.