CULTURE

A life’s interest in one book

David Brewer was a classical scholar at Oxford and later learned modern Greek after hearing the language on his first trip to Greece He was a teacher «for a bit,» as he puts it, before moving on to journalism for 10 years or so. «Then I was a businessman,» he says, which proved to be valuable in his understanding of the workings of the loans that the struggling Greeks raised in London to finance their war of independence. «The Flame of Freedom» (London, John Murray, 2001) is Brewer’s first book and is obviously the product of many years of research and visits to the battlefields, fortresses and other sites that featured in the Greek War of Independence. Why did you write about the Greek War of Independence? I learned Latin from the age of about 7 and Greek from about 11, as English schoolboys often did in my day. I went on and studied them at university and I had never been to Greece until five years after I left university, in 1959. Travel was not easy in those days. I was crossing from Brindisi to Corfu overnight and I remember, for the first time in Corfu harbor, hearing modern Greek spoken and I knew at once that was the language I wanted to learn. Some musicians have that experience. They hear an instrument being played perhaps when they are very young and know at once that that is the instrument for them. Then, I learned to read modern Greek fairly fluently and converse very hesitantly. I found that there was no good English book on the Greek War of Independence and decided to try to write one using Greek sources, as well as English and other language sources. And I was able to, in effect, retire, become a non-executive from my company, when I was 60 and had the time to get down to the book and write it. Had you been preparing the book in the meantime? Oh yes. Many visits to Greece. And I think that I went to all the battlefields and fortresses and other places where things happened, with the one exception of the Cave of Odysseus (Androutsos) near Tithorea. I ran out of time on the day that I had set aside to find it. Do you still want to find it? I would still like to find it and climb those rusting ladders to the cave itself. One definitely gets a sense of place from your book, that you were there, that you saw the scenes and imagined the protagonists in them. I found it was absolutely essential, if I was going to write with confidence, to go and see where everything happened. Will you be working on anything similar? One idea that my publisher quite likes is a traveler’s guide to the Greek War of Independence. There are so many guides to classical sites and, in fact, the great scenes of the Greek War of Independence are just as interesting and impressive. We think a guidebook leading people to these more modern places would be very useful and, we hope, popular. Do you feel there is such a distortion of history in Greece?