Greek Odyssey

Local author D.R. Ransdell weaves a tale of music and romance from the Aegean.

Thanks to the blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the upcoming Summer Olympics in Athens, Greek culture can be found more in the American mainstream.

Greece is perhaps best known for its romantic islands and breathtaking sunsets. But beyond its geographical beauty, Greece is also defined by a unique type of folk music played on the bouzouki. The bouzouki, a three- or four-stringed instrument with a long neck and rounded, pear-shaped body, is accompanied by guitars, a clarinet and small violin as primary instruments. The melodious combination of these instruments can be heard in such classic films as Never on Sunday and Zorba the Greek, and it is this music that pulls at the heartstrings of anyone who listens to it, including author D.R. Ransdell.

In the spirit of Shirley Valentine's escape to the Greek island of Mykonos in the hit movie Shirley Valentine, the novel Amirosian Nights captures the heart and soul of Greek culture through the tantalizing rhythm of the bouzouki. The novel is loosely based on the author's travels to Greece.

The whimsical protagonist, Rachel, journeys back to the fictional Greek island of Amiros for a short vacation, only to find the seductive pulse strings of bouzouki music more alluring than the rhythms of the mariachi band she was a part of in Tucson. Rachel's love affair with Greece can be traced back to her college years where two very real professors at the UA Classics Department, Dr. Albert Leonard and Dr. Jon Solomon, introduced her to "piled up centuries" of Greek history "spilling into the present."

The café bar and the taverna set the stage for two separate romances, which manifest themselves under the moonlit sky. Rachel and her friend Eleni live their significant moments from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.--the hours when Greeks live the most. Not anticipating anything more than filling in for the AWOL guitar player, Rachel not only finds a place in the bouzouki band at "O Kapetanios," the local Greek taverna on the island, but also slowly cultivates a tumultuous relationship with the handsome bandleader, Vangellis. While the island backdrop and songs they play stay predominately the same, the plot unfolds every night with the different kinds of customers who come to hear the bouzouki music and give a different twist to Rachel's burgeoning romance with Vangellis. The story of their romance ends in an unexpected yet realistic fait accompli that takes place in a two-month span.

The story is peppered with endearing Greek phrases that give insight to the Greek mindset. Ransdell's occasional mistakes in the rendering and structuring of Greek sentences resemble the occasional off-notes in her guitar playing. Ultimately, these slips do not interfere with the overall linguistic cohesion and musical melody.

Ransdell creates an analogy, skillfully showing how lives can be choreographed through the musical chords of the guitar, namely its joys (major chords) and its heartaches (minor chords). This is a refreshing perspective with which to view Greek culture, whereas many people know it through a culinary perspective (i.e. spanakopita, mousaka and gyros). Ransdell, however, combines chef and conductor's wit at its best by employing both the taverna and its music to express the essence of Greek culture.

The mixing of Mexican, Spanish and Greek music makes for a truly cross-cultural plot that links mariachi with bouzouki music in a most charming way. The tapes with recorded mariachi and Greek tunes are the repository of Rachel's love for both cultures and their musical and verbal vocabularies. A "chain" of characters, events, melodies and feelings bind together people of different cultural, social or other backgrounds. Vangellis and Rachel especially prove to be kindred spirits linked by musical chords thus showing once again how the universality of music transcends language boundaries.

Ransdell's believable characters are simple enough to be liked, as one eagerly follows their romantic odyssey in the Aegean. As you read the final pages of the book, you will be ready to set anchor and live your own Amirosian nights under the Greek fengari (moon).