In this fictionalized memoir based on the author’s life, young Yanni Sitakos grows up on the Greek island of Erytha, raised by his grandparents and surrounded by an eclectic extended family. In his late teens, he travels to America to live with his parents, who are virtual strangers, and a sister he’s never met. What follows is a remarkable account of the immigrant experience as Yanni strives ever forward toward success, while one foot remains rooted in the past and his homeland.
In many respects, Yanni’s story is typical, a young boy who prefers the pleasure of the beach to studying, grows up and matures when he moves to the big city, working toward a law degree and a successful future, but it contains a number of unique factors. There is the specter of serious illness that marks Yanni from a young age, and later his sister, the occupation of Erytha by the Nazis during WWII, and Yanni’s complex relationship with his mother.
Stratakis is psychologically astute, the contention between Yanni and his parents related to their abandonment issues is conveyed sensitively and accurately, as is his angst at having to relocate to America. His ambivalence is explored in depth, he loves his parents and wants to be near them, but he hates to leave his whole world behind. He struggles to learn the language and find a place for himself in the community, and the result is existentially painful. Yanni’s mother is a fully three-dimensional secondary character, Stratakis provides her back story at a critical point and it is a vivid and heartbreaking narrative.
Stratakis is also skilled at producing atmospheric details, from the taste of Yanni’s grandmother’s almond biscotti, to the island’s scent of figs, olive oil, and ouzo, to the “cerulean-blue vastness” of the Aegean. His choice to frame the book around a much older Yanni looking back at his life is a bit trite, however, and tends to distract rather than add anything substantial to the story. Fortunately these narrative interruptions are few.
APPOINTMENT WITH YESTERDAY is a moving account of a young man’s coming of age and a well-crafted depiction of immigration, alienation, and triumphant assimilation.
~Lisa Butts for IndieReader