Few of you may be familiar with the writing of Maggie Rainey-Smith, but you will most likely have seen her wonderful photographs taken at Paddy’s house during Maggie’s 2007 visit to Kalamitsi when researching the book that was to become Daughters of Messene. I am looking forward to reading more about the book but here is some background from a recent press release. You can review Maggie’s pictures and her tribute to Paddy written after his death here.
Maggie’s book is titled Daughters of Messene and seeks to shed light on the experiences of young Greek women shipped to New Zealand fifty years ago. The press release continues …
When almost 300 unmarried Greek women arrived in Wellington in the early 1960s, the established Greek community feared the scandal that might follow. Instead the women settled into life here and the event has largely been forgotten. Inspired by this migration, Maggie Rainey-Smith’s powerful third novel Daughters of Messene, explores the complex interweaving of family and political events that caused one young woman to flee Greece after the Civil War, and half a century later motivated her daughter to return.
Wellington writer Rainey-Smith’s idea for Daughters of Messene started with a friendship with her neighbour Maria, one of the original ‘Greek girls’ to settle here.
“My father was in Greece during the Second World War and was captured on Crete, spending four years as a prisoner of war in Poland,” says Rainey-Smith. “As a result, he was awarded a medal and certificate by the Greek Government in the 1980s. My neighbour at the time was Greek, and she helped me to apply to the Greek government on behalf of my dad.”
“We became good friends and I discovered that she had emigrated from Kalamata in Greece as part of a deal done between our two countries. The girls all had to be under thirty, unmarried, and they came to work in the hospitality industry. I became fascinated by their stories.”
Maggie’s two previous novels About Turns and Turbulence (Random House) are set in New Zealand, but research for her third novel – published by Wellington’s Mākaro Press working in collaboration with Whitireia publishing students – took her to Greece for three months in 2007. Although the trip wasn’t quite what she had expected.
“I spent most of my time in Kalamata searching for stories, but found that people were reluctant to speak of the Civil War. In desperation I caught a bus to the Mani and ended up staying ten days in picturesque Kardymili, where I had the great good fortune to meet eminent travel writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. It seemed like a blessing on the story, and so I persevered with working through the secret and sometimes shocking stories of what was a terrible time for Greece.”
The book has taken seven years to write, and has been released as part of NZ Book Week this week.
Daughters of Messene is described by Owen Marshall as “A strong, fresh novel, dense with closely observed and convincing detail of life in Greece and aspects of its history.”
Greek-NZ poet Vana Manasiadis says, “In many ways Daughters of Messene is a tender love poem dedicated to a place and its people, to the profound bonds of blood, and the legacies such bonds leave us. The tale is both touching and vivid, the unfolding masterful, and the novel’s heroines, spirited, huge-hearted and tough (in the very best sense).”
You can pre-order Daughters of Messene here.