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Friday, February 5, 2010

War Games, written by Audrey and Akila Couloumbis. Random House, 2009. $21.00 ages 12 and up

"Petros thought of a dozen things he wanted to tell Uncle Spiro on his way to the other farm. He could hardly keep his mind on one bit of news before his thoughts turned as if blown on the wind he imagined for the kite.
He would tell Uncle Spiro Lambros was safe, of course. He'd say there were two valuables in the well. The glass marble. Uncle Spiro should know what a fine shooter it was.
And Lambros."

This is a 'novel based on a true story'. It evolved from memories and discussions from Akila Couloumbis' life in Greece, while the Germans occupied it in an attempt to control the Suez Canal during WWII. It is 1941 and life in the villages of Greece is mostly serene and peaceful. Petros and his family farm, sharing their vegetables and eggs with their neighbors and the people who live in the nearby village. Petros and his brother work hard, and play hard with their cousin Stavros and with their friend Elia. Sibling strife is common and Petros longs to be like his big brother, while never wanting Zola to know that.

The family hears that the Germans will be taking what they need from farmhouses and villagers and that a commander will take up office space in the Couloumbis parlor. They are angry and scared. In the meantime, they watch the roads carefully and help any Greek resistance fighters who show up at their door. As the time for the commander's arrival looms near, their cousin Lambros arrives to find refuge with them. He is an honored and bold man who has tricked the Germans and continues to find ways to thwart their occupation. While Lambros is hiding in their well, the commandert arrives and the family lives in terror that Lambros might be discovered.

Lambros' escape goes unnoticed and soon the family hears that he is safe. On a trip to town to deliver vegetables and eggs, Petros is able to tell Stavros (Lambros' younger brother) that Lambros has found refuge and is fine. What happens to Stavros next is terrifying, and finally, uplifting.

Petros' feelings toward the commander are complicated: "Petros saw it in the commander's face, he wanted to be one of two men. And yet he had to remain the commander. He clicked his heels together and bowed his head a little."

I liked the pace of this memoir from is very different than other books read about the war. The family comes to life through description and dialogue and the idyllic setting for the hard work they share on the farm is real and tangible.

In an author's note about the other author, Audrey Couloumbis shares insight into its evolution as a novel, basing the characters on Akila's family and the fact that many commanders occupied space in their was especially kind and they based the commander on Akila's memories of that man. They set the story at the beginning of the occupation and are happy to report that the end of the war brought a return to the United States for the family.

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