Things for the author, Australian Lana Penrose, get a bit tougher than just the expected culture shock and language barrier when her marriage begins to disintegrate.
Lana moves to Greece in 2000 when her Greek/Australian boyfriend Dion gets a job working at one of Athens’ local radio stations. Lana gives up her career as a high-flying MTV producer as well as her family and friends in support of his dream.
Her experiences in the first part of the book may sound all too familiar, but hopefully not. They include smiling and nodding throughout your boyfriend’s family meals because you can’t understand their language, embarrassing pharmacy visits and extreme epilation in the form of tweezing leg hair and shaving eyebrows out of utter boredom.
These may seem like funny episodes at first, and to the author they are too, but eventually they take their toll and she suffers from a spell of depression. It’s not really a big wonder why this happens, after all, the only human contact she has is an hour a day with her boyfriend/husband. She doesn’t work and she spends most of her time timidly staying locked away in her dream apartment.
But, the book is not only about the woes of a kept woman living in a plush apartment. She also has her own Greek wedding to plan, some island hopping to do and moments of Greek culture to embrace. She eventually does make a handful of expat friends along the way and returns to her party-girl lifestyle.
The book dangles between witty and honest remarks about the bleakness of expat life. And, once her husband Dion renews his contract, she realises she’s in Greece for the long haul. Although you could read the autobiography as a grim and biased review of Greece, it most certainly is not that.
Lana realises that she has to make a bigger effort to integrate into society and that perhaps the reason for her depression is because she has resigned herself into believing that she can’t be happy in Greece and therefore isolates herself.
In the second part of the autobiography, she gets a grip and becomes curious about understanding Greek culture and begins adapting to it. She never does become fluent in Greek, nor does she ever fully integrate. But her attempts shift her mood for the better so that she slowly returns to her usual perky self.
Lana speaks about ‘winning’ at the end of the book and even though she leaves Greece rather sadly and doesn’t conclude if the country beat her or not. the message is that if you too are suffering from the plights of expat life, and if you truly believe that it is against you, then it probably is.
To Hellas and Back could be called ‘a modern-day Greek tragedy,’ which is how Lana words it. Or, to put it into more optimistic terms, you could name it an expat anagnorisis. One where the protagonist over time discovers her real situation and eventually takes control of it, she isn’t defeated by it.
Lana’s story is one which will alternately make you laugh and shock you too by the brutality of expat life, which contrasts with the obvious idyllic setting. More than anything though, Lana’s story will become your own as you recognise the bitter-sweet realities of expat living.
Lana Penrose- bestselling author, writer and breeder of endangered marsupials. Find out more at lanapenrose.com.au