Last Updated on December 4, 2020 by Celeste
Do you miss Greece and would you like to travel your mind? Any bookworm knows that nothing can spark the imagination more than a fun-to-read novel or good poem. If you are an avid reader like me, you know that books can be the most precious (travel) accessory, a teacher and a saviour in many stages in life. And when you’re dreaming of paradise beaches, enchanting villages, and light summer breeze, what’s better than books set in Greece?
Best Books set in Greece
From the natural beauty of Corfu and Kefalonia to the caves and myths of Crete, Greece has inspired writers for millennia. So to help you transport yourself to one of the most beloved places in the world, I’ve created a roundup with some of the best books set in Greece you must add to your reading list.
This is a collection of just some of my favorite books set in Greece. It is a selection of mainstream fiction. All the book titles are linked to the book on Amazon in case you want to read more. For Greek Mythology, history publications and poems, I will create a separate write up.
1. My Family and Other Animals
by Gerald Durrell, 1956
When the unconventional Durrell family can no longer endure the damp, grey English climate, they do what any sensible family would do: sell their house and relocate to the sunny Greek isle of Corfu.
My Family and Other Animals is the autobiographical work by British naturalist Gerald Durrell. It tells in an exaggerated and sometimes fictionalized way of the years that he lived as a child with his siblings and widowed mother on the Greek island of Corfu. My Family and Other Animals was intended to embrace the natural history of the island but ended up as a delightful account of Durrell’s family’s experiences, from the many eccentric hangers-on to the ceaseless procession of puppies, toads, scorpions, geckoes, ladybugs, glowworms, octopuses, bats, and butterflies into their home.
A long time bestseller, the funny and autobiographic My Family and Other Animals, has been the inspiration for several TV and theatre productions including the 2016 ITV six-part popular series The Durrells, filmed in Corfu.
Books set in Greece
The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell, 2006
If you love Gerald Durrell as much as I do, you can also opt for The Corfu Trilogy. A combination of his books My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, and Garden of the Gods.
2. Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, 1994
One of the books that I have been carrying around in my suitcase during my first wandering years in Crete, a long time ago. Corelli’s Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. Dr Iannis practises medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn’t so bad—at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of “Heil Hitler” with his own “Heil Puccini”, and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. I read the book when I first came out and re-read it often. I find Corelli’s Mandolin romantic, passionate, sad, and that perfect novel that keeps you longing for the landscapes and scents of Greece.
3. The island, by Victoria Hislop, 2009
The island, by Victoria Hislop, is the kind of book you can’t stop reading once you start. A tender and exciting drama that takes place in the beginning of the previous century in Crete where a leper community was established on the small island of Spinalonga. On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.
4. When the Tree Sings by Stratis Haviaras, 1979
Stratis Haviaras is a Greek-born poet and writer who emigrated to the United States where he received an MFA degree in creative writing and held a number of positions at Harvard University. When the Tree Sings is a powerful and often brutal story about the Second World War and the subsequent Greek civil war, seen through the eyes of a young boy in a remote village. While living in German-occupied Greece and consequently witnesses the ongoing destruction of his family and his village, he also sees the destruction of his way of life.
5. A Separation by Katie Kitamura, 2017
In this novel, a young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild landscape, she traces the disintegration of their relationship and discovers she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love. A Separation is a mesmerizing, psychologically taut novel about a marriage’s end and the secrets we all carry set in Greece.
6. Little Infamies: Stories by Panos Karnezis, 2004
I love this series of interconnecting short stories set in an unnamed Greek village. Little Infamies: Stories describes local life and how the lives of its citizens – the priest, the whore, the doctor, the seamstress, the mayor – and even its animals – a centaur, a parrot that recites Homer, a horse called History – are entwined. As their lives intersect, their hidden crimes, their little infamies, are revealed, in a place full of passion, cruelty, and deep reserves of black humor.
7. The Thread by Victoria Hislop, 2011
The Thread is another beautiful and epic novel by Victoria Hislop that spans nearly a hundred years. The book tells the magnificent story of a friendship and a love that endures through the catastrophes and upheavals of the twentieth century–both natural and man-made–in the turbulent city of Thessaloniki, Greece. It is a wonderfully evocative and enthralling saga enriched by deep emotion and sweeping historical events, from fire to civil war to Nazi brutality and economic collapse. The Thread is historical fiction at its finest, colorful and captivating with truly unforgettable characters–a novel that brilliantly captures the energy and life of this singular Greek city.
8. The house by the river, by Lena Manta, 2017
Lena Manta is currently the most successful and commercial Greek modern writer with thousands of readers. She manages to capture you from the beginning of every novel. Charming, captivating and sentimental, she has many stories yet to tell. The house by the river tells us the story of five young women who realize that no matter the men they choose, the careers they pursue, or the children they raise, the only constant is home. The book is set around the small house on the riverside at the foot of Mount Olympus.
9. Afternoons in Ithaka by Spiri Tsintziras, 2014
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. A charming memoir of self-discovery, family and connection. And with sentences like ‘I remember crusty just-baked bread, rubbed with juicy tomato flesh, swimming in a puddle of thick green olive oil’, Afternoons in Ithaka travels you right back to Greece.
10. Best Books Set in Greece: Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis, 1946
Crete was my first love in Greece, so I have to include a couple of books about this island. I must also include some Kazantzakis. Although Zorba the Greek is maybe too obvious, it cannot be missing from a list with the best books set in Greece. This classic novel, international sensation, and inspiration for the film starring Anthony Quinn tells the story of Zorba. A Greek working man and larger-than-life character, who is energetic and unpredictable. He accompanies the unnamed narrator to Crete to work in the narrator’s lignite mine. The pair develops a singular relationship.
Zorba has been acclaimed as one of the most remarkable figures in literature. The book explores the beauty and pain of existence, inviting you to reevaluate the most important aspects of your life and live to the fullest. A must-have for anyone who loves Greece.
11. The Girl Under the Olive Tree
by Leah Fleming, 2012
Another one in Crete is The girl under the olive tree. Set in May 1941, the island of Crete is invaded by paratroopers from the air. 60 years later, Lois West and her young son, Alex, invite feisty Great Aunt Pen to a special 85th birthday celebration on Crete, knowing she hasn’t been back since the war. When word spreads of her visit, and old friends come to greet her, Lois and Alex are caught up in her pilgrimage and the journey which leads her to a reunion with the friend she thought she had lost – and the truth behind a secret buried in the past.
12. Eleni by Nicolas Gage, 1983
In 1948, as civil war-ravaged Greece, children were abducted and sent to communist “camps” inside the Iron Curtain. Eleni Gatzoyiannis, forty-one, defied the traditions of her small village and the terror of the communist insurgents to arrange for the escape of her three daughters and her son, Nicola. For that act, she was imprisoned, tortured, and executed in cold blood. Eleni is an emotional book written by Nicholas Gage, a Greek-born American author. Nicolas joined his father in Massachusetts at the age of nine. He grew up to become a top New York Times investigative reporter, honing his skills with one thought in mind: to return to Greece and uncover the one story he cared about most: the story of his mother.
13. North of Ithaka by Eleni N. Gage, 2004
Following Eleni by Nicolas Gage, I recommend North of Ithaka. In this novel, Eleni Gage returns to the remote Greek village of Lia, where her father was born and her grandmother murdered, to rebuild the ruins of her namesake’s home and come to terms with her family’s tragic history. In doing so, she leaves behind a sparkling social life and successful career to continue the tale of a family and a place which her father, Nicholas Gage, made famous over twenty years ago with his international bestseller, Eleni. Along the way she survives humorous misadventures, absorbs fascinating folklore, and comes to understand that memories of the dead can bring new life to the present. Part travel memoir and part family saga, North of Ithaka is, above all, a journey home.
14. The Colossus of Maroussi
by Henry Miller, 1941
The Colossus of Maroussi is an impressionist travelogue by Henry Miller. As an impoverished writer in need of rejuvenation, Miller travels to Greece at the invitation of his friend, the writer Lawrence Durrell. The books is inspired by the events that occurred. Set in pre-war Greece of 1939, it is ostensibly an exploration of the “Colossus” of the title, George Katsimbalis, a poet and raconteur. Although some critics have opined that is more of a self-portrait of Miller himself, Miller considered it to be his greatest work. The Colossus of Marousi is a celebration of friendship, spirit and life – all that seemed authentic and valuable and which was on the point of being destroyed.
15. Prospero’s Cell: Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu – Lawrence Durrell
Eloquent and beautifully written, Prosphero’s Cell with of travel essays is compiled from the author’s 1935-1939 diary entries, during his time spent living on the island of Corfu. Musings on philosophy and Greek culture are found alongside evocative descriptions and day-to-day adventures with Durrell’s wife, Nancy, and his family. Lawrence Durrell is the older brother of Gerald Durrell, whose books feature on the top of this list. An excellent read if you are planning to visit Corfu or Greece.
16. Reflections on a Marine Venus: A Companion to the Landscape of Rhodes
by Lawrence Durrell, 1943
In his hugely popular Prospero’s Cell mentioned above, Lawrence Durrell brought Corfu to life. In Reflections on a Marine Venus, he describes Rhodes. Durrell uncovers its past and present, touching the island with wit and insights on the history and myths which the landscape embodies. With the same wit, tenderness and poetic insight that characterized Prospero’s Cell, Reflections on a Marine Venus is an excellent introduction to Greece.
17. The House of Dust and Dreams by Brenda Reid, 2010
The House of Dust and Dreams is set in Greece in 1936. A young British diplomat and his wife have been posted to Athens. Hugh loves the life there but his spirited and unconventional wife, Heavenly, finds it hard to fit into the whirl of endless parties and socializing. When Hugh is sent to Crete to sort out a problem, they stay in a rundown house owned by his family. Heavenly falls in love with the place and the people, and stays on when Hugh returns to his duties. As she tries to rebuild the ramshackle home, Heavenly makes firm friends with Anthi, a young woman from the village, and Christos, the handsome and charismatic young builder. But the dark clouds of war are gathering and the island will become a crucible of violence and bloodshed in the days to come. For Heavenly, her friends, and her family, it will be the greatest test they have ever known. A romantic book full of scents, sights and sounds of Greece.
18. The Magus by John Fowles, 1965
This daring literary thriller, rich with eroticism and suspense, is one of John Fowles’s best-loved and bestselling novels and has contributed significantly to his international reputation as a writer of the first rank. At the center of The Magus is Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who accepts a teaching position on a remote Greek island, where he befriends a local millionaire. The friendship soon evolves into a deadly game in which reality and fantasy are deliberately manipulated, and Nicholas finds that he must fight not only for his sanity but for his very survival. This book is inspired by Fowles own experiences on Spetses, and describes many places as they are, and in detail. You can easily trace the footsteps of protagonist Nicholas on the island, as the important buildings and places are still there, although don’t expect the route to be signposted. As journalist Tim Lott wrote for the Telegraph: “Spetses seems entirely unaware of, or uninterested in, its literary significance.”
Join a classic adventurer and travel to the southern Peloponnese, where Patrick Leigh Fermor explores remote villages, swims in the Aegean and Ionian seas, and finds history wherever he goes. A travel-writing adventurer, described by some as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Graham Greene,” explores the rugged southernmost tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. Alongside beautiful and florid descriptions of the country (a dictionary is sometimes required) are excerpts on Byzantine history, Greek culture, religion, and more.
20. Blue Skies and Black Olives: A Survivor’s Tale of Housebuilding and Peacock Chasing in Greece, by John Humphrys, 2010
For Graecophiles who sometimes wondered about buying a property in Greece, this book is for you. This charming and humorous story by BBC presenter-turned-author John Humphrys about the misadventures he had while trying to get his dream house built in the Peloponnese is a terrific light read. The amusing stories of the bureaucratic nonsense of Greece are all so familiar to us who live here!
What do you think of these books set in Greece?
This list is partial and personal. I’m sure I’ve missed some good books. Do you have a great recommendation I’ve missed in this list? I’d love to hear about more about your future Greece travel plans and books set in Greece in the comments below!
You may also like:
- My 10 best books about Greece. A selection of favourite books by local insider Anastasia
- 20 Best Greek Mythology Books for Kids
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