A charming memoir of self-discovery, family, connection and the power of a tomato. 'I remember crusty just-baked bread, rubbed with juicy tomato flesh, swimming in a puddle of thick green olive oil. I am seven years old. I sit on a stool in my grandmother's house.
It is the height of summer in a seaside village in the south of Greece. We little Aussies devour 'tomato sandwiches' as the family chats and laughs and swats flies ...'
From the first heady taste of tomatoes on home-baked bread in her mother's village in Petalidi, to sitting at a taverna some 30 years later in Ithaka with her young family, Spiri Tsintziras goes on a culinary, creative and spiritual journey that propels her back and forth between Europe and Australia.
These evocative, funny and poignant stories explore how food and culture, language and music, and people and their stories help to create a sense of meaning and identity.
Afternoons In Ithaka by Spiri Tsintziras was published by ABC Books / Harper Collins on 26 February 2015.
From the beautiful cover, to the delicious sounding blurb about it, this book could have been written especially for me. I am a huge fan of Greece - the people, the food, the stories, the sunshine - everything about that wonderful country delights me. I'm also passionate about food, about great ingredients and how to use them, so a book that combines Greece and food really is my idea of perfection.
Spiri Tsintziras grew up in Australia, her parents emigrated from Greece and made their home thousands of miles away. Despite this, her childhood and her upbringing was Greek - her Mother speaks very little English, her Father is traditionally over-protective, and she was surrounded by members of her extended family and natives of Greece.
Afternoons In Ithaka is a pure delight to read. Set out as part memoir, part recipe book and part history, it is quite unusual, but makes a change from other books in the same genre. Spiri is a talented author, she writes with ease and becomes something of a friend to the reader. This is her coming-of-age story and she hides nothing. The reader accompanies her as she rebels against her overbearing father, as she discovers men, as she flits from place to place. She often disappoints her family, they would have liked nothing better than for Spiri to settle down with a nice Greek boy whilst she was still very young. Instead, Spiri led her own life, she was determined to see things and do things, and although, in the end, she did conform (well, almost - her husband is Maltese, not Greek!), she had many adventures over the years.
Whilst Spiri's life story is interesting, it is the food element that really made the book. Her descriptions of her Mother,her Grandmother and her Aunt's food, and the recipes included alongside are wonderful. Mouth watering and oh so familiar. I think that I've tasted most of the dishes that she describes and the craving for proper Greek tomatoes; red and lucious and juicy was absolute torture to me. I could almost smell the lamb on the spit, the souvlaki and the herbs, and I was dreaming about the sweet honey dripping cakes and pastries.
Afternoons In Ithaka is a fabulous read, even if you've never been to Greece you will still love this one. Food and culture, mixed with current affairs and language and music - a winning combination. I enjoyed every page.
My thanks to Tina from the wonderful website Trip Fiction who sent my copy for review.
With a keen interest in people and their stories, Spiri Tsintziras has a background in social work and freelance journalism and has worked in marketing, publishing and policy roles for more than fifteen years.
She has had numerous stories about food, family and connection published in The Age, and is the co-author of Parlour Games for Modern Families, the winner of the Australian Book Industry Award Book of the Year for Older Children 2010.
Spiri lives in Melbourne with her husband, two kids and a bunch of pets.