What was it like growing up as a female in a Greek household in Australia, in ’50s and ’60s, with parents that, in Alexandra Voulgari’s opinion, had migrated in body form only, with their mentality still very much reminiscent of the ideas and values of living in a small Greek village?
“Yes we were expected to marry at sixteen years of age and in most cases it was an arranged marriage. Yes, we were considered spinsters and unmarriageable at the age of eighteen. It was always me that ended up as the proverbial wallflower when I attended the Greek dances, chaperoned of course by my parents. Why were my Australian girlfriends able to go out to parties and dances on their own?” says Voulgari, a Greek Australian author who has released her first book Life’s a bitch: Poutana Zoe. In the book, the author examines her ethnic background and how it has influenced the choices she’s made in life. There are some very confronting aspects in which she examines abuse in relationships and how that one line ‘Ti tha peei o kosmos’ (‘What will people say?’) almost ruined her life.
Alexandra Voulgari was born on the island of Samos in a village called Hora, and migrated to Australia with her family in 1950s. Although brought up in her adopted country, Australia, Alexandra still has a deep affection for the island of Samos and Greece. According to a tale that her grandmother used to tell, on the day the family was meant to leave Samos, Alexandra went missing and a full scale search erupted to find the missing child. She nearly made her parents miss the boat. What does that say for her, wonders Alexandra.
“Perhaps I never should have left,” she says.
It was the experience of growing up Greek in Australia that Alexandra Voulgari decided to share in her first book, which humorously tells of her struggles with cultural expectations, of her deep affection for the island and country of her birth.
The book started off as a love story about a Greek girl and her struggles with her background, and how those influences affect the choices she made in her life. But when the writer sat down and had a good read through it, she could feel it lacked depth. She sat down again, and completely changed the whole concept of the book. She related to the reader her own life experiences of what it was like growing up Greek, and laced it with liberal doses of sexy romance and humour.
This book is not only about growing up Greek, but it actually incorporates other aspects of life itself, as Alexandra says.
The first part of the book examines in a humorous way what it was like growing up as a Greek female, and the restrictions imposed on them. It talks about proxy marriages and Alexandra’s endeavours to break away from the stereotype image of a ‘good Greek girl’. The journey then takes readers to Greece as the author tries and connects with her roots, where she discovers that things had changed quite dramatically and perhaps it was just migrants that held on to the old customs and values and had not moved with the times.
“Here I meet a man who has an enormous influence in my life. It tells of finding and losing love, entering into a disastrous marriage and having the strength to leave it. Finding yourself suddenly a single mother of one with a dwindling bank balance, and friends who are trying to introduce you to singles bars, with hilarious results. It tells of loss and being brought to the stage where you want to give up the will to live, until you find inner strength again,” explains Voulgari.
Alexandra Voulgari writes about her never-ending struggles with her upbringing in an ethnic household – while trying and reconcile the two aspects: Greek upbringing and an Australian way of life.
“Most Greek women nowadays are horrified when they hear that we were expected to marry at sixteen and a lot of my school friends were indeed married off in proxy marriages. My plans did not figure in my mother’s plans for my future. I should have been getting used to the idea that I was at an age when my parents would chose a good Greek boy for me and I was expected to abide and go on and be a good and obedient Greek wife. So as their plans for my marriage lay in tatters, and they had to suffer the humiliation that their only daughter was unmarriageable, I was destined to be at odds with my mother over my choice of occupation. My mother wanted me to work in a bank – in Greece working for the National Bank of Greece was like winning the lottery. As for wanting to go out and socialise with my Australian girlfriends? My mother almost had a coronary. Coming home with a love bite? My mother took me straight to our local doctor to examine me to see if I was virgin. And when I married and then divorced – the first divorce in our family – the shame and humiliation. It was difficult, there is certainly no getting around that. Life was an absolute poutana!”
Greek women who grew up in this period can relate to what is written in this book, the writer says.
“I do also want to make it clear that while I examine certain aspects, I am fully aware that these issues were also found in other cultures as well. I am also mindful that while my views back then of proxy marriage didn’t highlight it in a good vein, there probably were those proxies where love did grow and they did live quite fulfilling lives together as a couple,” she says.
With her first book, Alexandra is aiming for a wide audience, not only Greek Australians who will be able to identify with it. It is a journey laced with sexy romance and plenty of humour. It is a tale intended to leave the reader with one bit of wisdom.
“Stay focused on your goals and believe in your dreams. Sure, life does not always go as we plan and there are plenty of stumbles and knocks along the way. But have the strength and determination and believe in yourself. Lack of self worth – something I know a great deal about – will always be your biggest downfall,” says Alexandra.
Alexandra Voulgari’s next book, on Traditional and Modern Greek sweets, is to be released around March next year.
“I think it is important to maintain the traditions and customs that have been handed down from our parents. As any Greek who has migrated and while we may live our lives according to the Australian way of life, deep in our hearts we will always be Greek,” concludes Alexandra Voulgari.
The book Life’s a bitch: Poutana Zoe is available on-line, on www.booktopia.com.au and www.bookdepository.com at discounted rates, and in most major bookstores. The purchase of Alexandra Voulgari’s book will assist a wonderful cause, with part of money from the sale of the book to be donated to the Children’s Cancer Centre Foundation at the Royal Children’s Hospital.