There has been many a story written of Australians and Greeks fighting side by side in the midst of World War II. Some of the battles in Crete in particular have become part of Australian and Greek military folklore alike.
Here however, we have a very different wartime story, put together with a unique mix of Greek and Australian flavours. Someone Else’s War is the first novel by Phil Kafcaloudes, as he traces the story of his grandmother, Olga, a one-time actress who went from a fish-and-chip shop in Sydney’s Ultimo, to become entwined with the Greek resistance movement in Athens, and ultimately, become a spy for the Allied forces.
Her acting skills, combined with her fluency in several languages from a childhood spent in the Greek quarter of cosmopolitan Alexandria, Egypt, would ultimately become her lifeblood. The tales of how Olga found herself to be in the resistance are some of the most enjoyable, including that of how Greece found itself to be at war first with Italy, before being overpowered by the might of the German forces, together with the oft-understated impact this had on the war in Europe as a whole.
The glimpse into the reign of Colonel Metaxas also gives an interesting insight into why he continues to be such a highly controversial figure in Greek history. But there is another story that is told, that of Nellie, Olga’s daughter, and the author’s mother. We read of Nellie’s battles through her teenage years without her mother, first in Sydney, before relocating to Darwin. But it is there, together with the rest of the Kafcaloudes family, that the northern capital city also comes face-to-face with war. The two wartime stories running side by side, while a little disorientating at first, eventually becomes one of the features of the novel, and nowhere is it utilised more effectively than here. A writer, broadcaster and author, Kafcaloudes offers us a story that is almost too good to be true.
The manner in which he presents it gives us the trials and tribulations of one family, at war, albeit in different parts of the world. We read how Olga became estranged from her family, and how she would end up being trained by the British in espionage. These are the stories that Kafcaloudes heard from his family through his childhood, and here, he has set out to give life to it. Olga is portrayed as tough, with her pursuit by the Germans and the risks she faces regularly, all testament to that. We also see a softer, somewhat maternal side. Despite the steely exterior, the imagery of Olga yearning for her daughter Nellie is highly emotive. Kafcaloudes’ first novel is an overwhelmingly pleasant read, and will bring a tear to the eye of many Greek Australians.
The language is emotional, simple and colourful. Turning one’s family stories into a novel is obviously something that has been done before, and in many instances, has been done quite well. That is the case here, too – and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable look into an amazing, yet often overlooked, part of the histories of the two nations.