submitted by Hellenic Communication Service on 24.09.2006
Title: Austin Lunch. Greek-American Recollections.
Author: Constance M. Constant
Publisher: Cosmos Publishing
Date of Publication: 2005
Category: Memoirs, biography, autobiography
Description: softcover, 445pp; now also in CD-format for blind.
Availability: through publisher, local bookstores, and large online distributors like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
Email Connie Constant, here
Email Bob Constant, here
Author Engages Readers with Delightful Memoirs About Greek-American Experience
From the Publisher
This memoir amusingly relates the story of a family living through the shock of immigration and the struggles of the Great Depression. Mama defies convention in 1931 and goes to work in her husband’s restaurant, the Austin Lunch.
Located on Chicago’s historic but seamy Near West Side, Papa’s restaurant becomes an uncertain haven for their two children, Helen and Nicky. Ironically, the restaurant with its parade of assorted inner city characters becomes a proving ground for the children to observe the energy, integrity and courage of their hard working parents during the rough thirties and early forties.
The book’s authentic sense of time and place warmly records a personal slice of Twentieth Century history through the honest eyes of childhood.
During the Great Depression, when many American families lived like nomads in public parks and huddled in doorways on cold nights without money for food or housing, Connie Constant’s mother put on a waitress uniform—unheard-of behavior at the time for a Greek wife—and went to work with her husband in the Austin Lunch, a Chicago restaurant. Michael Dukakis called Constant’s account of her immigrant family’s struggle to make good in America “the quintessential American story.”--Women and Children First Bookstore, Chicago, IL
Austin Lunch is a delightful book about the Great Depression. It's strange to use delightful and Great Depression in the same sentence, yet Constance M. Constant integrates this family memoir of hardship, struggle, coping and hope with humor. Family stories and the weird experience of growing up in an old working class restaurant, that turns into a saloon after the repeal of Prohibition, are amusingly related from the perspective of the two inner-city kids who lived it.
As a forty year old, I had no idea of the multiple layers of misfortune that the Thirties "hard times" caused my grandparents, parents, and millions of other Americans. Constant's narrative with its fascinating details made me feel like I was THERE! Austin Lunch is a book for seniors who remember the Depression first hand and for the rest of us who might even benefit from their experiences. Reading this wonderful memoir is a delightful way to find out about those "hard times" you hear about at family events from the "old guys" in your clan. I'm giving these books as gifts for Mother's Day and Father's Day.--Victoria Kourtis, Amazon.com
Penelope M. Petropoul
To learn about your past is a gift. And Connie Constant teaches us in an eminently enjoyable and engaging way in her new book, Austin Lunch. Set on the West Side of Chicago in the 1930s, the Austin Lunch chronicles the lives of an immigrant Greek family as they struggle to survive through the Great Depression.
Sprinkled throughout a fascinating narrative are important historical lessons about the Depression, immigration early in this century, the discrimination and trials Greeks faced and their ultimate victory of spirit and determination.
The main characters - Papa and indomitable Mama - are people who lead heroic lives in ordinary, humble surroundings. The observers are their children Helen and Nick and the story is told from their keen, innocent perspective. The family owns a restaurant, the Austin Lunch, and lives in a simple apartment on Madison Street, a sketchy area at the time. The Depression has left a painfully large number of Chicagoans - including many Greeks - unemployed and struggling for survival. Business is abysmally slow and to help reduce costs and keep the business afloat, Mama decides to defy tradition and work outside the home.
This courageous, determined woman with very limited education overlooks criticism from fellow Greeks and goes to work at the Austin Lunch. Her smarts, love and self-confidence, bolstered by strong faith and character, enable her and her husband to successfully navigate the assorted characters - from upright people to drunks and crooks - who frequented the Austin Lunch and Madison Street. She and her husband, Paul, treat each customer with dignity and fairness and earn the loyalty and friendship of countless individuals.
What captivated me about this book is that the characters are real and honest. As you turn the pages, you experience the family's struggles, joys and sorrows. The gripping stories and anecdotes tug at your heartstrings and may remind you of stories you have heard about your own family.
Readers who migrated from Greece to America and lived through the Great Depression will relate to this book. Those born later will learn from it. The reader feels as though he/she is living in the 1930s in Chicago, and seeing the world through the eyes of a child and the lens of an adult all at the same time.
Constant reminds us of the great stories and heroism in everyday life. In reading her work, one remembers the value of listening to the stories of our families, recognizing the adventures they encapsulate, and treasuring the lessons therein.--Penelope M. Petropoul, Amazon.com
HCS readers may wish to read releases or announcements of other books in our Books section or in our extensive, permanent archives at the URL
From Constance M Constant to kythera-family
With a backround to the book, and additional reviews
I very much appreciate hearing from you and am very happy that you enjoyed reading Austin Lunch. Most of us share common life experiences that create a bond uniting all of us. And thank you for listing the book on
....I started thinking about writing the book some 20 years ago. As I grew older, a greater respect grew within me for the experiences endured by my parents and all other immigrants. I, along with my older sister and brother, remembered so many family stories and I didn't want them to get lost with the passing of our parents and older relatives. (So many had already been lost forever.) I felt the sacrifices and achievements of those pioneer Greek immigrants to the U.S. were not recognized and appreciated as much as they ought to be because they were not generally known. As I write in Austin Lunch, while on a visit to Greece in 1984, my husband discovered a burlap sack with letters written during the 1930s by my mother and her siblings to their parents in Tegea, Greece. Those letters, along with my mothers advanced age, gave focus and urgency for writing the book.
The hardships encountered by many pioneering Greek-American families are not well known by their descendants. My initial purpose was to write about my parents. As I continued to write, I realized that my parents' lives were similar to the lives of many other Greek-Americans. It eventually dawned on me that the experiences of Greek-American immigrants were similar to those of other American ethnics: neighbors in the locale of my father's diner, the Austin Lunch; other citizens in the City of Chicago; and in fact, people who lived in every part of our country. So, the book evolved from the story of one family into a slice of American history during the Great Depression. I am finding that many non-Greek readers connect with the book just as Greek-Americans do.
A few copies of Austin Lunch have sold in Greece. Several Greek readers have related to me that they had no idea of the hardships that their immigrant relatives encountered as a result of the shock of arriving in their new country and later, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. They believed that their relatives in America were all rich. Those pioneer immigrants did not want to worry or burden their parents or other relatives with their economic problems. As a consequence, poverty and hardships within their own families living in America were not known in Greece.
Keep in mind that I am an unknown, first time author whose book was published by a little known publishing company. Yet, the book has been well received and the first edition sold out during the first year of publication. The first edition consisted of less than 3000 copies. The second edition will be less than 2000 copies, but more can be printed if the demand exists. The first printing is the difficult and time-consuming edition; later printings are much easier.
Below I have included some of the reviews or comments Austin Lunch has received from readers. (Three additional reviews can be found under my book listing at Amazon.com and BN.com.)
Congratulation on your interest, dedication and hard work in promoting the culture and history of Kythera, not only in Australia but throughout the world. The website is very interesting and informative. My husband's mother was from Vresthena, Laconias, about 15 miles north east of Sparti, so we feel some kind of kinship with Kythera. The closest we have come to Kythera is Gythion.
Austin Lunch Reviews and Comments
1. From Gov. Michael Dukakis:
I took your book with me to Europe where Kitty and I spent a couple of weeks of R&R this month, and I loved it. It brought back so many memories for me. In fact, I thought only my yiayia on my mother's side used the word " chewtabakia" to describe the guys that were leaning on rakes working for the WPA. She didn't put an "n" in the middle of it, however. And it wasn't until Kitty and I went to Greece for the first time in l976 when I was governor that I discovered that " astinomos," not " polismanos," was the Greek word for policeman!
I hope a lot of people have a chance to read it. It is the quintessential American story, and it is one of the reasons why we Greeks are so proud of who we are and where we came from.
Many, many thanks.
2. From Vicky Yannias: Odyssey Magazine
What you last wrote me is indispensable information, not only to my article, but as part of the history itself.
The book is terrific. Only one wish: that those terrific pictures you mention were reproduced in the book. Is there any chance of your doing so in a second printing? if so, I'll mention that in the article . .
3, Comments about Austin Lunch by Professor Charles Moskos* of Northwestern University:
Austin Lunch, Greek-American Recollections by Connie Constant is a rich gathering of memoirs, humor, and history. It is a joy to read and I could not put it down until the last word. Constant’s narrative on the Chicago diner is a must for those whose parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents came over as immigrants and even more so for their children who should know their ethnic legacy. Austin Lunch is essential reading not only for Greek-Americans, but all Americans who want to know more about an important era in our country’s history.
*Charles Moskos Ph.D., author of Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, is professor of sociology at Northwestern University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
4. From Effie Walsh: Author
By Efthalia Makris Walsh, Author of Beloved Sister
Chicago is said to be one of the most written about cities in the U.S. Our own Harry Mark Petrakis has immortalized Greek American men and Chicago’s Greektown in his novels and other writings. But few writers have focused on the experience of Greek women immigrants and their children there as does the excellent, newly published memoir Austin Lunch by Constance M. Constant
Be advised, that this book is no chick lit, no caricatured My Big Fat Greek Wedding, nor a feminist scribe against Greek fathers and culture, as was Constance Callinicos, American Aphrodite. It is rather a perceptive and moving account, reading almost like a novel, of the triumphant Americanization of Constant’s stalwart mother, Vasiliki Krilis of Piali, Tegea, Arcadia, Greece, and of the raising of children in the straitened circumstances of many Greek immigrants in Depression era America. The book’s title refers to the restaurant that provided the family’s livelihood through the worst of the Depression and the focus of the book is the author’s mother whose bravery and steadfastness contributed so much to the family survival through those desperate years.
Many of us have heard similar stories from our mothers and grandmothers, but few are as lively, and as full of period background and incident of life in Chicago and Tegea in the thirties as those in “Austin Lunch.” Constant, a long-time elementary school teacher in Illinois and California knows how to tell a good story, to educate, as well as to entertain. There is no one formula for a memoir. Austin Lunch is a hybrid of anecdote, history, analysis and breezy Windy City dialogue. Some readers may find the mother’s remarks transcribed in her broken and colloquial English, which she of necessity learned on the job a bit hard to take. But that was the language of the multitude of immigrants on Madison St. at that time where Vasiliki, of necessity, learned the gritty tongue of tavern vernacular. A reality is that many Greek immigrant women of that period never learned to speak English well, if at all.
Her mother’s American experience had a dramatic beginning. The 18 year-old Vasiliki and her younger sister Tasia were among 13,000 immigrants aboard the last ten ships racing to arrive at Ellis Island before midnight on July 1, 1921, the deadline for the new immigration law intended to staunch the flow of Greeks and other southern and eastern Europeans to the U.S. Ten other ships trailing them did not make it due to fog.
In Chicago, the two girls were met by their three sisters and a brother who preceded them to America. The economic situation in Greece had necessitated shipping off five of the seven Krilis daughters and one of their two sons to the New World to seek their fortunes. All settled in Chicago.
Vasiliki left her pastoral village on the 2,000 foot plateau area of Tegea and her house immediately adjacent to the classical ruins of a Temple of Alea Athena. Her destination was the bustling, increasingly dangerous streets of the near West Side, the famous Skid Row, in the prairie, lakeside town of Chicago. She initially suffered a great sense of rejection and despair that her parents had sent her off to this impersonal, if not harsh city. In 1923 Vasiliki, married “Paul “ Apostolos Limberopulos, who in 1907 had emigrated alone at the age of 13 from, Mercovouni,a village northeast of Tripolis, and a few miles from Piali. Soon they had two children, Helen and Nicky, an apartment in a nice neighborhood, and a successful restaurant with two partners on Madison Street, two blocks from the old Chicago Stadium. In 1929, the Great Depression changed all that. The partners left, there were few paying customers, and no money to pay employees. The poverty they had known in Greece was no longer simply a memory but a reality for the Limberopulos family. Add to that Vasiliki’s upsetting realization that Paul had not stopped playing on horses as he had earlier promised her.
Vasiliki rose to the challenge. By 1931, against her husband’s wishes, she insisted that she work at the restaurant. Paul feared what Greeks would say about his wife’s working outside the home. In spite of her scanty English Vasiliki negotiated an extremely low rent for a small and primitive apartment, half a block from their restaurant, Austin Lunch, and started to work with her husband. The two young children spent most of their time at the restaurant, doing homework in the booths, helping out, and playing on the homeless-filled streets in front of Austin Lunch. Shocking as it may sound today, Helen and Nick were often put on the bus with carfare and sent to distant parts of Chicago where they were met by their aunts to spend days and nights. Church was part of their existence, but their parents long working hours limited the occasions to major holidays at that point.
According to Constant’s account, the trigger for telling this story was the discovery of a bag of mouldering letters from Chicago found in a shed in Piali by her husband on their trip to Greece in 1984. (The house was abandoned. The adjoining classical ruins were in the process of excavation.) Two large black rats jumped out as he retrieved the sack of letters from Vasiliki and her other American relatives. Back in Chicago, Constant’s mother and her older sister Helen pieced together fragments of the crumbling letters, and in doing so released a series of reminiscences by Vasiliki. The recounting focuses primarily on the 30s, the Great Depression and its effects on a young family. The story is told mainly from the perspective of Helen, who was old enough to have strong memories of the period. Her brother Nick also dredged up memories of that time. Constant, herself, born in 1939, had little memory of the events and experiences of Austin Lunch, which closed in the early 40s when Skid Row, became an even more perilous place to work and live.
Helen and Constant do not flinch from portraying the realities. One dramatic and frightening moment occurred when a family friend arrived at Austin Lunch to say farewell with the woman—a mobster’s girlfriend—he was fleeing with to Florida to marry. The Limberopulos’s were horrified when the boyfriend stormed in to Austin Lunch, threatening and screaming. After he left, they fearfully helped the couple escape for the train station hoping there would be no reprisals. On another occasion, in an emergency, Paul left Helen and Nick alone for a few moments with only one customer drinking at the bar. When he collapsed and fell unconscious to the floor, Nick raced to their apartment and brought the remorseful father back. The customer revived.
Life at Austin Lunch also had its high points. Family and many Tegean and Arcadian friends were frequently entertained at Austin Lunch. Descriptions of shopping in the old Greektown near Maxwell and Halsted Streets with their mother, waving to FDR as he rode to the Democratic Convention at the Chicago Stadium as their candidate for the presidency, visits to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1934, as seen from the eyes of an observant young girl enrich this book.
Vasiliki, with her driving energy and certainty of what was the right way to live, (…”do your work first class.”), was the dominant parent. Still, Paul was an involved father. Once when Nick disobeyed him he put him in the restaurant refrigerator to cool him off, as they say today. On another occasion, to Vasiliki’s great distress, he took the two children to a racetrack, reached by a long train ride. They loved it. The book reveals also Paul’s passion for recounting the history of Tegea and the U.S and his concern with his children’s intellectual formation.
Once prohibition was over in 1933, Austin Lunch began to sell alcohol and the business slowly became more profitable. By 1936 it provided funds for an extravagant (so said family and friends) three-month return to the Patrida. Both Paul and Vasiliki longed to see their families and for their two children it was to be a look at an entirely different world.
The city-state of Tegea, has had a long held reputation for producing aggressive competent women. For one Atalanta, the fastest runner of Ancient Greece, was, it is written, a Tegean. Pausanius, in his 2nd Century travelogue of Tegea, notes Atalanta’s figure carved on the frieze of the Temple of Alea Athena. Also associated with Tegea was the Goddess, Hygeia (Health), whose marble head was stolen from the Tegea museum, when Vasiliki was a girl as she recalled. Pausanias recounts, too, that when the embattled Tegeans were losing to their enemies the Spartans, Tegean women rose up and defeated their enemy. And the major feast of the Theotokos on August 15, has for centuries been the occasion of a week long celebration known throughout Greece.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess, that I may have a bias in fully enjoying this admirable memoir. Although I have never met this illustrious Krilis, Limberopulos, Constant family, my own mother was from a Tegean village and my father from Silimna, a village northwest of Tripolis. And from my earliest years, our frequent trips from South Bend to Chicago, to visit my grandmother’s sister married to the red-haired Gineris clan in the Big City were highly prized. They lived across from the old Chicago Stadium just two or three blocks from Austin Lunch.
(Efthalia Makris Walsh, author of Beloved Sister (Tegea Press, 2000) received her undergraduate degree from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in Early Greek Church Historical Theology from Catholic University of America. She and her husband, John, reside in Bethesda, Maryland.)
5. BOOK REVIEW: Watching the Community Evolve in a Chicago Diner
By Demetrios Liappas
Special to The National Herald
Austin Lunch: Greek American Recollections, by Constance M. Constant (Cosmos Publishing, February 2005), available through www.amazon.com.
In the 1980's, a dusty, burlap sack retrieved from a dilapidated house in Piali, a hamlet built on top of ancient Tegea near Tripolis, contained a treasure trove for Constance M. Constant.
Filled with old, yellowing and forgotten letters mailed from Chicago from the early 1920's to the late 1950's, they triggered an astonishing journey down memory lane for the author of the recently published Austin Lunch: Greek American Recollections.
With dreams of an easier life and riches in America, Apostolos, Constant's father, left his village of Mercovouni, also near Tegea, in 1907 as a 13-year-old boy carrying all his possessions in a cardboard suitcase. His father had to borrow money for the steerage. Once in Chicago, Apostolos had to work hard - first as a shoeshine boy, then as a waiter, and finally as the proud owner of the diner, Austin Lunch, where he worked a mere 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
The saga of Constant's mother began in 1921, when she embarked on a ship bound for America, where her older sisters had settled and had established families in Chicago. At the age of 18, Vasiliki Krilis and her younger sister took the boat from the port of Patras. It was filled with unmarried Greek girls from Constantinople and Piraeus, all hoping for marriages which didn't require dowries. Eventually, most of the females of the large Krilis family made it to Chicago, “all because of the damn dowries my Papa couldn't pay.” It was a situation common in Greece during the first half of the 20th Century. Unable to feed a large family, let alone provide the dowry required for a decent marriage, many fathers were forced to give their daughters away because, as Constant puts it, “it was easier than selling the (family's) horse or donkey.”
Sixty years later, her mother reminisced about the pain of her experience: “My father was getting rid of his children… he was giving his daughters away, one by one, and two by two… and we didn't do anything bad, nothing wrong… I think about it and cry and throw up.” It is a not a recollection filled with bitterness and self-pity, but with compassion and understanding of the existing socioeconomic conditions everywhere at the turn of the 20th Century in Greece. The descriptions of their travails on Ellis Island are familiar, yet deeply moving: “There we were coming, to America, like animals. Just like sheep in back of an open truck.”
Inside the Austin Lunch, we witness the changes which were taking place in the country: the end of the Hoover era, the rise of Roosevelt, Prohibition, the Mob and then the Depression. “Nobody got real excited about it because it doesn't come all of a sudden, like a heart attack. It came like… a damn arthritis.” And Mama decides to do the unthinkable: In order to save the restaurant, she goes to work - at a time when women were supposed to stay at home and take care of the children and “keep a clean house… (otherwise), what will people say?”
The book could have profited from some judicious editing and tightening up in some sections. But these are minor quibbles for a book which rewards the reader with suspense, surprises, elation, insightful observations, colorful characters and moving scenes, and at the same time manages to convey a huge amount of information.
Studded with memorable characters, both in Chicago and Greece, and vividly rendered with richly detailed and loving brush strokes, the book resurrects the sounds and smells of Chicago's West Side, where “green grass had become a forgotten species,” and where a multitude of races and religions managed to coexist peacefully in confined spaces. It also eloquently captures the times when, as a child in the midst of great deprivations, buying an ice cream cone was a treat worth cherishing and remembering.
It is a tale deeply felt, with much love and admiration for the people who endured so much and never lost faith in themselves, or in the dream for a better life - a dream which replenished their resolve. It is a story full of color and complex shades, narrated with energy, gusto and accuracy - where a plot and characters are developed at a pace which any novelist would envy. It is a recollection in controlled prose which, in places, attains arresting beauty and eloquence.
In addition to the members of the large, extended family, we meet colorful characters who gain our sympathy through the courage they display, and who remain indelibly etched in the mind long after the reader closes the book.
The story of Uncle Al and his love for Hazel, for example, could easily become the subject of a study with cultural and psychological dimensions. The character of the village priest, Papa Petros, suggests a magical realism. Many a surrealist would love to have created him. But it is Mama, the mother, who is the central character, and who dominates this marvelous story, and it is her voice we hear throughout the book. From the opening paragraph, with an emphatic “Never. Ever. Period,” she virtually jumps off the page, a fully formed character. “Based on a real incident” is a phrase used to bestow authenticity to fictional characters. Constant's characters are real not because they are her family, but because, by using all the devices of fiction, she has masterfully sketched them for us in her almost 450-page book, in a style which displays considerable literary sophistication.
The cultural shock for the newly arrived immigrants was horrendous. Although surrounded by lots of sisters, nieces and nephews, Mama did not hesitate to declare, almost immediately, that “I feel real strong inside myself that I don't like America.” That statement is a testament to every immigrant's initial feelings about this country.
“By 1910,” we are told, “75 percent of Chicago's population was made up of first-generation immigrants and their children.” The year 1921, when Vasiliki Krilis arrived, was also the year the Harding Administration signed the Quota Act, which restricted the number of immigrants entering the United States. Many in Congress believed that too many immigrants, especially from southern Europe, were a “threat to the fabric of our race,” and would ruin the economy.
But the immigrants kept coming, and somehow, both the nation and the economy survived. When the immigrants realized that streets in the new country were not paved with gold, they rolled up their sleeves and worked twice as hard as they had worked in the old country - just to survive. And survive they did. Stoic, strong and stubborn, fiercely proud of the “ancient ruins” they left behind, they persevered, surmounting the hardships which came their way, and built diners, houses and the infrastructure for prosperous new lives. In the end, theirs was a success story. They lived to see their children and grandchildren reach the highest positions in American business, professions and politics. It is a success story worth remembering.
Sixty years later, Mama, who once couldn't find anything to like in America, was proud to say, “God bless America. Even if, once upon a time, I had to work almost like a slave at the LAustin Lunch… It's a good thing for you and me and all of us I got stuck here. I love my Tegea, but I love my Chicago, too.” This is a book which enriches the literature of the immigrant experience. If it's true that people live as long as we remember them, then, thanks to Constant's book, her family will live in the collective memory of the new Greek Diaspora.
If memoirs, like newspapers, are the first draft of history, then historians and sociologists, the Saloutoses and the Moskoses of the future, I am sure, would be grateful for the book Connie Constant has given them. It will be books like Austin Lunch which will serve as the sources for their studies of the immigrant experience; what the immigrants brought with them, and what they gave to their new country. Constant takes her place next to Theano Margari and Harry Mark Petrakis in Chicago, and Helen Papanikolas in Utah, among others, in eloquently chronicling the history of her family in the first half of the last century - the story of pioneers who formed the foundation of the Greek Diaspora in Chicago and, by extension, of the Diaspora throughout the United States.
It is a bravura accomplishment, dazzling in its architectural conception and execution. All in all, a great read.
Prof. D. Liappas is the Director of the Basil P. Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies and the Odyssey Program at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles CA.
Shared Universal Experiences, March 31, 2007
Reviewer:Patricia H. Gates (Park Ridge IL) -
You don't have to be Greek to appreciate Austin Lunch. My grandparents came to the U.S.from Germany in 1900 with their two little girls. My grandmother's sister had written to her from Chicago, "Valeska, you find money on the streets in America." My grandparents didn't find money on the streets, but with hard work their family ran a "Dry Goods" store on Chicago's near north side for many years. My mother, their youngest daughter, told me many stories of being immigrants in business in Chicago at the beginning of the century. What a wonderful surprise it was for me to read Austin Lunch and recognize and share the struggles of the Limberopulos family.
It recalled my mother's stories of her family and their store in Chicago. The story of the United States is the story of a country of immigrants. As you read this book, the struggles of the Limberopulos family resonate with your deepest family ethos. What a wonderful literary journey and heart warming experience it is to read this book!
An empathetic and involving true story of family values., February 3, 2007
Reviewer: Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA) -
The debut book of Constance M. Constant, Austin Lunch: Greek-American Recollections is the heartfelt of growing up and adapting to the shock of immigration, the hardship of the Great Depression, and seeing the determination and drive of one's parents in action. The family's simple restaurant on Chicago's historic but problematic Near West Side, Austin Lunch tells of the mother's defiance of 1931 conventions to work in the restaurant, and the diverse assortment of inner city characters who dined there. Above all, Austin Lunch is a tribute to an industrious mother and father, and the strength of a close-knit family. An empathetic and involving true story of family values.
Austin Lunch, November 10, 2006
Reviewer:C. Pappashillman -
I loved this book. As a Greek American and native of Chicago, this was a treat to read. Also purchased it for my Aunt and two Uncles.
A reviewer, 09/04/2005
What is it like to leave the only home you have ever had, to say good-bye forever to parents, sisters, brothers, everyone you know? How can you hope to survive in a strange new country without knowing the language and with no money? Yet thousands upon thousands of people from various European countries came to the United States in vast waves of immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They were seeking a chance at a better life. Among them were the parents, grandparents or great-grandparents of many of us. Austin Lunch, Greek-American Recollections tells the true story of Vasiliki who, in 1921 at eighteen, left her home in rural Piali, one of Tegeas villages in the Greek Peloponnesos, to sail for the United States. She and her younger sister, Tasia, were being sent to the New World because their father could not afford dowries for all his seven daughters. Neither girl had ever ridden in a car or even a bus. Their village home, which overlooked exquisite ruins from the classical age of Greece, had no electricity or indoor plumbing. They didnt want to leave home. The sea voyage was long and difficult it was an omen of things to come. In the recollections of this ordinary woman, told through the precise memory of her oldest child, Helen, now a woman of 80, the book causes a world to come alive again. The details of Mamas life during the Great Depression are vividly seen against the backdrop of national events. Papas diner, the Austin Lunch, on Chicagos Near West Side, provided the vantage point to the larger world, since its window facing Madison Street witnessed the passing by of the good, the great and the crooked. Aboveboard Papa (Paul Limberopulos) was determined to keep his business legit in spite of its location at the edge of Skid Row. The diner also provided the stage upon which much of Mamas time was spent, working outside the home (how dare she!) and still not missing a beat when it came to raising her children. Clearly, Mamas strength came from her inherent connection to God that was an essential part of her identity. There is so much to enjoy in this book. The history, the sense of immersion in another time, would be enough, but the best part is that we are given lots of people, real people, flawed and funny, sensible and silly, awful and wonderful. Watching them, we learn about ourselves. Beautifully written, powerful but not sentimental, Austin Lunch is a story of integrity, determination and deep love of family. It is the story of Mama, who, after all, is anything but ordinary. We are left to wonder about those who went before each of us, and we wonder about our own courage and integrity.
submitted by George Poulos on 12.11.2006
I thoroughly enjoyed your marvellous book - Austin Lunch.
I just couldn't put it down.
As a child who was also bought up in a magazi (who like you went to school without being able to speak English), from a young age (I am 54 now) - I totally identified with everything you conveyed in Austin Lunch.
I was transported back to Central Chicago - and felt the ebb and flow of work, and life...and being Greek in that city.
Congratulations on a superb book.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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