In his book, First Passage, author Elias Kulukundis examines the duality of the life of a Greek-American child of immigrants, while coming of age.
Meet Elias Kulukundis
The name Kulukundis may ring a bell. Perhaps you’ve read Elias’ books, or possibly you’re wondering, “Is he one of those Kulukundises?” As a matter of fact he is, and because of that, it was assumed he would go into the family business. He told me in a previous interview, that when he told his parents that he wanted to be a writer, their response was definitely not what he’d hoped. He explained that because of the fact that his father was in the shipping business, that’s what was expected of him — and nothing less.
Like many Greek-Americans born to immigrant parents, he straddles two worlds — often contradictory. He actually straddles three — the third being the high society world of wealthy parents, being the heir to a shipping business, and all the expectations thereof.
Born in London and raised in Rye, NY, his family moved to the States, just after the start of WWII. Elias traces his Greek roots to Kasos, though his parents were actually born on the island of Syros.
He was educated at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, and Harvard University. His first book, The Feasts of Memory: A Journey to a Greek Island, part autobiography, part travelogue, was first published in 1967.
Next came the The Amorgos Conspiracy, published in 2013. It’s a fascinating, intriguing thriller — a true story — as Elias risked his life to rescue his father-in-law, George Mylonas, Minister of Education in George Papadreou’s government, who was exiled after the 1967 coup.
Inspiration for First Passage
Elias said that his first book is the story about “everything that didn’t happen to me”; First Passage is about everything that did. He spoke about what inspired the book.
In the late 1990s, he wanted to write fiction. He read a book that said that one should prepare to write fiction by writing a memoir, a factual account of at least 10,000 words. This activity was supposed to “get all the reality out of your system so that you could begin to invent.” He didn’t stop when he was reached the goal; soon he was at 100,000 words. Now, nearly 20 years later, he has completed an autobiography. First Passage is the first volume, to be followed by Bold Coasts — A Life’s Adventure in a Greek Shipping Family. The Greek version, which combines both volumes, will be released in 2016 by Ekdoseis Potamos in Athens.
Elias tells the story of his developmental years, from Greece, to England to the US;to boarding school, and all the ups and downs of a rich boy trying to find his own way, despite his parents’ plans. He says this tome is a prelude to the “struggles of maturity” revealed in Bold Coasts.
“It’s about my days in school and college, when I tried to reconcile my Greek heritage with my American education. The subtitle of the book is Navigating the Straits Between Greece and America, and crossing those straits can be tricky.”
Review of First Passage
Greek-American children of immigrants will certainly relate to the struggle of straddling two cultures, and trying to find where they fit. Our rich, storied culture is an amazing blessing, but often clashes with American ideals; every “something-hyphen American” will face this at some point– trying to figure out who they are within this context.
At the same time, all young people — rich or poor — go through a rite of passage: to try to forge their own path in a world that is different from that of their parents, and attempting to balance their hopes and dreams with their parents’ expectations.
Young Elias has little guidance, and he’s caught in the melee. Who is he? Is he more Greek? More American? Somewhere in the middle? And what does that mean? Juxtapose that with the added dimension of the expectations he faces as the scion of a wealthy family, and you have a most interesting tale, with elements relatable to all children of immigrants.
By: Elias Kulukundis
Publisher: G.C. ELEFTHEROUDAKIS; 1st edition (2015)