Helena: an Odyssey: Synopsis
Helena: an Odyssey is an absorbing saga of myth and obsession, of a family haunted by their illustrious Byzantine past. Bittersweet love stories are set against Greek wars, forced deportations and ethnic identity, while woven throughout lies the power, the symbolism of hair.
Helena’s daughter Georgia, narrating the tale, begins in 1908 when her great grandparent Yiannis Kouvalis and two sons set out on an epic journey from a poor Turkish village to glittering Smyrna on the Aegean Coast. Eventually succeeding as prosperous merchants, the sons marry and have children.
But the Young Turks are rising, and the ensuing Greco-Turkish wars culminate in the fiery destruction of Smyrna. In the ethnic cleansing that follows, surviving remnants of the Kouvalis family are forced into a poor part of Greece.
Son Spiros has to care for his brother’s widow Eleni and her children, but ill, spurned by local Greeks, he passes the burden of redemption to Eleni, who imposes it in turn on her daughter.
It falls, finally, on the unlikely Helena who longs only to create beautiful hair and through it, achieve international hair design fame. Not allowing herself to be distracted by intense love for local boy Stephan, she establishes her career by the age of fifteen.
Thwarted in her attempts to follow Stephan when he leaves for the coal mines of Australia, she travels instead to her sister in Toronto where, penniless, she struggles with a strange language, suffers heartache over her vanished lover, and over her unrealized ambitions.
On reaching the present, both mother and daughter understand finally, there is more to their family than the violent, impoverished one they have known. Each is transformed by stepping into history, and into the mysterious workings of memory. Not least, pondering the wisdom of a simultaneous pursuit of love and fame.