Annie Liontas’ debut novel, Let Me Explain You, takes a comedic look at a Greek-American family saga. Read our review.
By: Apollo Papafrangou
Meet Greek-American Author Annie Liontas
Dedicated to urban education, New Jersey native Annie Liontas works with teachers and youth in Newark and Philadelphia. She is also the co-host of Philadelphia’s TireFire Reading Series. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, BOMB, Guernica, Ninth Letter, and Lit. In 2016, Annie was the Visiting Writer at UCDavis. She is also the co-editor of the anthology A Manner of Being: Writers on their Mentors and the recipient of a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund.
A Fortune-Telling Goat
What do you do when death comes at you like a goat?
Such is the question at the heart of Annie’s comedic and moving family saga, Let Me Explain You, that explores the dilemma of Greek immigrant restaurateur Stavros Stavros Mavrakis, a man convinced he has merely ten days left to live after receiving the grave news courtesy of a prophetic farm animal who visits him in a dream.
Despite its outlandishness, the scenario is comically plausible given our culture’s tendency toward superstition. The adventure that follows is centered on Stavros’s scrambling attempts to prepare himself, and his family, for his premature end. With the frenzied effort typical of a man who has spent his time catering to the appetites of impatient diners, Stavros cooks up a set of final demands to be served to his daughters Stavroula — the black sheep lesbian and fellow chef; Litza — the hot-tempered loose cannon; Ruby — the cherished baby; and his traitorous Anglo ex-wife, Carol. His “death wish” email triggers a course of events that are at once hilarious, sad, and unpredictable.
Let Me Explain You was featured in The New York Times Book Review as ‘Editor’s Choice’ and was selected by the ABA as a 2015 ‘Indies Introduce Debut’ and ‘Indies Next’ title.
Review of Let Me Explain You
Annie Liontas’ well-crafted prose showcases both a lyrical quality and a sense of restraint that is a true joy to read. Despite being a debut author, this undeniably talented writer possesses a veteran’s sense of character development and plot pacing as the novel is broken into multiple sections, one exploring Stavros Mavrakis’s current circumstance, and the other delving into his early life before arriving in America from Greece. The story, in many ways, is essentially about Stavros’s struggles to be acknowledged by the world around him, hence his need to “explain you,” or explain his plight to others.
While taking into account the familiarity of these characters and their circumstances –we have surely encountered similar scenarios in literature and film based in Greek perspective, if not come into direct contact with them in our personal lives – Annie never succumbs to cliché. Instead, she offers fresh and eloquent insight into the mindset of her characters.
Although it takes a comedic slant, Let Me Explain You tackles many serious issues, illuminating the fallacies of machismo culture; the particular loneliness of being a foreigner in a distant land; and the complexities of identity — that with which we are born, and that which we create. There are many touching anecdotes about the childhood of Stavros’s eldest daughters, Stavroula and Litza, as they adjust to life as new immigrants, speaking in their own mish-mash of English and Greek — as did many of us in our younger years — and contending with their place as young women in a world dominated by men. We are also shown Stavros’s boyhood experience in his Cretan village as he navigates a conflict between rival kafenios to gain employment and learn all he can in hopes of nurturing his earliest entrepreneurial instincts.
Let Me Explain You is one of the most enjoyable contemporary novels I have read recently; diner owners, fortune-telling goats, heavenly galaktoboureko and all. Pick up a copy on Amazon.
By: Annie Liontas
Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition
APOLLO PAPAFRANGOU is an Oakland, CA native. He’s a writer and poet, and the author of the novel Wings of Wax, available now from Olive Leaf Editions.