As an old woman and the last of the village lamenters—women who compose lament-poems for grieving families—Aliki agrees to talk to an American ethnographer about her fading art. In the process, Aliki begins to sing her own story: before she was one of the last of her kind, Aliki was a fourteen-year-old girl whose isolated village was under Nazi control during World War II.
Stricken mute after the trauma of witnessing her father’s public execution, Aliki is taken in by a neighbor and her troubled son, Takis. The family is also harboring a Jewish refugee, Stelios, and his mother, who teach them the ancient art of shadow puppetry in which shadows on the screen tell the classic Greek fables.
As the war nears its end, the Nazis torch the village and massacre its people, but Aliki, Takis, and Stelios escape. Fleeing across the chaotic landscape of post-war Greece, the three become a makeshift family, traveling as a troupe of shadow puppeteers to earn a living. As they make their way through Greece, they are witnesses to a country being pulled apart by the departing Axis occupants and various nationalist rebels.
MY LAST LAMENT combines the larger-than-life themes of classical Greek literature—madness, grief, political intrigue—with an intimate tale of friendship and loved forged in the crucible of wartime. It is also a story that traces Greece’s ongoing economic and political turmoil to its post-war beginnings, shining a light on one of the lesser known legacies of World War II.
Advance Praise for MY LAST LAMENT
“This is an astonishing novel, an imaginative feat of epic proportions. I was gripped from the first line. These characters! This story! Here is war and joy and terror and love and death and humor all mixed up, just as in life. I loved MY LAST LAMENT so much I kept shoving it in people’s faces, saying,
‘This book! You have to read this book!’”
—Anna Solomon, author of Leaving Lucy Pear and The Little Bride
“If you loved All the Light We Cannot See, you will devour this novel;
a heart-rending World War II story you’ve never heard and won’t soon forget.”
—Susan Meissner, author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean
“A Greek epic in its own right, MY LAST LAMENT is the story of a nation trying to live up to its past while struggling to come to terms with its present, and of the indomitable people surviving that struggle. Aliki is a vivid and fully-realized heroine, both fragile and formidable, and her story is one that will keep readers quickly turning the pages even as they linger over Brown's lovely language.
MY LAST LAMENT is a book I will never forget."
—Alyssa Palombo, author of The Violinist of Venice and The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence
“A remarkable accomplishment, a long and circuitous tale of three young people,
orphaned by World War II in Greece, and their struggles to survive the brutal and chaotic aftermath—
a real Greek tragedy, full of wit, pathos, and poetry”
—Dennis McFarland, author of Nostalgia
James William Brown, author of the critically acclaimed Blood Dance, is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford and has also been a writing fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. The recipient of two fellowships from National Endowment for the Arts, he has also directed the editorial departments of textbook publishers in New York, Boston, and Athens, Greece. Previously he lived and taught in Greece for ten years.