As I look at the apartment block on the corner of Tsakalof and Irakleitou streets in Kolonaki, I try to imagine in its place the neoclassical mansion I became acquainted with in the pages of Daphne Economou's latest autobiography.
The book, which was recently published by Kaleidoscope in its original English version, “81 Cadogan Square,” as well as in the Greek translation by Anna Kakouri, still plays in my mind, as it constitutes a testimony of the journey into adulthood but also a fascinating look at entire generation in a changing, postwar world.
Economou is mostly known for her humanitarian work and as the founder, together with her husband Costas, of Cerebral Palsy Greece, an organization which promotes awareness of childhood disability issues. However, she is also known for her talents as a writer.
Her first autobiography, “Saturday's Child,” which recounted her early childhood in India (where her father worked in the twilight of the British Empire) was published by Okeanida in 2007. A few years later, she published a collection of poems with Kaleidoscope.
Her latest effort focuses on her formative years, traveling between Athens and London, but also presents a kaleidoscope of faces, places and situations that reconstruct her world in the period between 1945 and 1955 in a touchingly authentic manner.
What makes “81 Cadogan Square” special is its unforced narrative, perfectly poised between humor and taste. It made this reader think about how much the world has changed since that time, for better or worse, but what Economou conveys beyond her family history is a view of the world through the eyes of a child growing up in London with an extremely elegant mother, an absent father who was remarried, but also far away from her grandmother and grandfather, who lived in that beautiful house on Tsakalof – a house that was beautifully captured in a painting by Andreas Vourloumis – as well as her cousins and her friends. Of course, new friends came into her life and unlikely bonds were forged at 81 Cadogan Square.
Her stories abut all the famous personalities that also inhabited her world are equally entertaining and interesting, people like Gina Bachauer, Yiannis Tsarouchis, Dimitris Horn, Amalia and Alexander Fleming, Giorgos Seferis and so many more.
Beyond a moving and atmosphere-packed narrative, Economou's book also describes the conflicts between the world of teenagers and that of adults in a thought-provoking manner. But it is also a book that talks about the joys of life, of a good book, of intellectually rich people, of art and travel, of the value of expectation and the wonderful experience of growing up knowing that life is out there waiting for you.