“Lucky sat tucked at his kitchen table, newspaper spread across the surface, stripping rigani from the stalks. The herbs had hung inside a cupboard for a week -not long enough to properly dry- but he couldn’t wait; this old ritual was necessary. It offered a moment’s accord with the past.”
From the opening chapter of this beautifully written saga, “Lucky’s”, Greek Australian author Andrew Pippos, captures the reader’s imagination, as he sets the scene and introduces his protagonist. The reader is compelled to read on, understanding that this urgent moment of ‘reckoning’ is pivotal to the main character “Lucky” as he looks back at his life and contemplates his future.
A reader of Greek heritage will undoubtedly perk up at the familiarity in these first lines, as they evoke the aromas and rituals of the Greek cuisine.
These insertions of heritage and culture, of social codes, are intertwined throughout the novel which spans across decades and generations, all linked to the rise and fall of a Greek franchise of cafes. An era now lost, but crucial, in understanding the history of the migrants that first arrived to Australia.
Structured like a Greek classic
Mr Pippos’ saga, follows the lives of his extraordinary characters who journey through life, riding the waves of fortune, of tragedy, of love, as they search to find answers, healing to past events, closure and even atonement.
Though not initially apparent, all the characters are linked, in a series of events that develop the plot of this story and change the lives of those depicted in it.
Right from the start Mr Pippos knew what the thematic content of the book would be, he told Neos Kosmos in an interview about his first, widely praised book, published by Pan Macmillan in November last year.
Featured in The Guardian’s top Australian books for 2020, “Lucky’s” was Dymocks Book of the Month for November, and then became the focus of the “NSW Reads Lucky’s” initiative, that took place across the 360 public libraries in the state.
Eight years in the making, the novel developed as he himself matured, the author tells us. The focal points shifted, the protagonists changed along with the story line, but essentially, Andrew Pippos claims, it was always going to be a book about how people respond to failure or success. “About people chasing the life they most want -an artistic life, love, family, or healing.
“I want the readers to see the book as linked by causation. Action and consequence, which starts from the very first chapters. Sometimes the consequences to those actions can be felt decades later, or by another character even”, he explains.
External causation, which is not a result of ones own actions, but happens despite of them. “That is a real tragedy for many people.”
Exploring a culture over the decades
“I also knew that the novel would span across decades as I wanted to show how a culture had changed, or not changed, and in what ways it had remained the same. I also wanted to show how a character had changed through life,” he said.
People do change in life, even if in very subtle ways, he explains, and this you can’t show in a story that is set in a short time.
Mr Pippos was interested in the long format of a novel, because “you can do so much with time.” The narrative time in a novel allowed him to explore characters and consciousnesseses and gave him the opportunity to look at change, at how a culture changes in the passing of the years.
The Café world, a lost world today
“I wanted the café world to be at the heart of the book”
It made a lot of sense to him, he adds, to write about that world, in his first book since it was the most important place in his childhood.
His yiayia’s shop (café) in the town of Brewarrina in New South Wales, was the hub for the family.
“It was the main place where all the cousins and uncles and aunties met, where we all met. We would have enormous meals together and we would all, at some point, work in the shop, as we called the café then.”
It was in that setting that he learned about his heritage, the island of Ithaca, he listened to migration stories. “It’s where storytelling was a big part of what we did, every day around the dinner table, late at night, after the café closed.”
“It was quite a magical place for me as a child,” he adds. “I felt that I belonged there. It is where I learned about Greek mythology and where my love of storytelling really begins.”
What also compelled him to write about this world, is that it is now a lost world.
“These cafes have disappeared for various reasons and they are not around anymore. So, it was interesting to write about a milieu that you could see where it began and where it ended. Its whole trajectory was complete.”
These local Greek diners used to be in every suburb and country town of Australia.
Lucky and the Wheel of Fortune
The role of luck in life is not as important as it might seem in the title of the book, Mr Pippos spoke of the relevance of luck in the name of his protagonist and the television game “Wheel of Fortune” which is a constant feature in his novel, from beginning to end.
“Lucky’s real flaw is his gambling, and that is a problem many people have in Australia. And though I don’t have a problem with it personally I have witnessed it up close,” Mr Pippos said, adding how he wanted to write about that because “for Lucky as for other people, gambling is a way to address failures in their life, to make up for something that has gone wrong elsewhere, a problem they can’t really solve.”
Luck is relative. The book’s characters might not have gained what they thought they were striving for, but they do get to be, in the end, the person they originally wanted to be.
Finishing the book, and letting go
Part of that process was also to finally, and in a sense, emotionally, finish the book. But for an author it is a hard thing to do, Mr Pippos explains “You live with it for so many years, but on publication you reach a stage, where you have to let go.”
“I wanted to end the story in a place that gestured the future for these characters. I didn’t want to wrap it all up too neatly. I wanted to have all these characters in that one little room together and to show that there is a shared future.”
As in the best kind of fiction, there is change, hope and possibilities in the end.
Though no one can argue the importance of this novel as a legacy to the migrant community, as it conveys in tragedy, in connection and even in moments of hilarity, the beginnings of a life in a new and hostile country, this book is really about humanity.
It’s about the unpredictable outcomes of violence, and the choices we make in life and their lasting effects, and how even when everything seems to fall apart, there is hope, in a world where “love is the only permanence”.
“Lucky’s” was shortlisted for the Mud literary prize 2021 and now longlisted for the Matt Richell New Writer of the Year for 2021.
For more information visit Pan Macmillan – Lucky’s