A ROOM IN ATHENS

A Memoir

Frances Karlen Santamaria

First published in 1970, A Room in Athens is the remarkable journal of a free-spirited, young American woman abroad in Greece with her writer husband in 1964. Inspired by the sixties’ vogue for the exuberant land of Zorba and Lawrence Durrell, they seek an Aegean idyll–but their plans threaten to go awry when she learns she is pregnant. Settling in Athens, she gives birth to a boy at the country’s only natural-childbirth clinic–an underground refuge ruled by a mysterious Madame Kladaki. Afterward, as a new mother in a strange land, she struggles to reconcile the myth of Greece,

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First published in 1970, A Room in Athens is the remarkable journal of a free-spirited, young American woman abroad in Greece with her writer husband in 1964. Inspired by the sixties’ vogue for the exuberant land of Zorba and Lawrence Durrell, they seek an Aegean idyll–but their plans threaten to go awry when she learns she is pregnant. Settling in Athens, she gives birth to a boy at the country’s only natural-childbirth clinic–an underground refuge ruled by a mysterious Madame Kladaki. Afterward, as a new mother in a strange land, she struggles to reconcile the myth of Greece, ancient and modern, with contemporary Athens, even while their idyll recedes. In 1974, A Room in Athens was excerpted in the landmark anthology Revelations: Diaries of Women. This new edition, with an Introduction by the author’s son, unlocks a little-known gem in women’s memoir literature for a new generation.

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  • Tatra Press
  • Paperback
  • October 2016
  • 176 Pages
  • 9780989835299

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$15.00

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About Frances Karlen Santamaria

Frances Karlen Santamaria (1937–2013) was born in Cleveland, Ohio, attended Antioch College, and lived in New York City. A fiction writer and diarist, she was debilitated by multiple sclerosis in her early forties. A Room in Athens was her only published work before her illness. She was married twice and had five children.

Praise

“A true account of [a] timeless drama set in unfamiliar surroundings (Greece) amidst curious customs, language difficulties, and endless misunderstandings. [Karlen Santamaria] observed what was happening to her with genuine feeling and sensitivity.”Harper’s

“Written with charm, humor, and a certain telling simplicity.”Library Journal

“The greatest compliment I can pay [Santamaria] is that many of her fecund commentaries on life were just as poignant and literary as those penned by the great philosophers of Greek antiquity she so admired…wonderfully potent writing…”Independent Publisher

“[A Room in Athens] has the economy of a fine line drawing of mother and child…Any reader must be moved by its grace and nourishing spirit.”Charlotte Painter, Editor, Revelations: Diaries of Women

“A compelling memoir…With warmth and an authentic, relatable voice the author touches on marriage, gender relations, national identity, and life as an expatriate in ways that both reflect the zeitgeist of the 1960s and are strikingly resonant today.”Paula Michaels, author, Lamaze: An International History

“This beautifully written woman’s diary deserves to be read by many generations of new mothers to come.”Tristine Rainer, author, The New Diary and Your Life as Story

“Both engrossing and perceptive…a portrait of an Athens few visitors have experienced.”Barbara Hodgson, author, No Place for a Lady

Discussion Questions

1. What drives the author and her husband to travel from America to Europe, and, particularly, to Greece? What do they expect to find? What do they expect to escape? Would young American travelers today have similar expectations? How have Americans’ points of reference changed in the intervening years?

2. Is the author’s decision to undertake a lengthy and arduous European trip while pregnant wise? Foolish? Adventurous?

3. How do the Greeks see natural childbirth and the role of women in society, according to Madame Kladaki’s assistant, Miss Eleadou? How does Miss Eleadou perceive Greek society in general in relation to that of America?

4. The author describes the experience of childbirth as difficult and painful. How does the reality of childbirth, and her husband’s decision to leave in the midst of her ordeal, compare to her expectations and hopes?

5. At the clinic, Karlen Santamaria describes herself as lonely and confides that she wished her husband’s visits were longer. Are her frustrations with him valid? How are his feelings toward their child similar or different than hers?

6. What aspects of Greek culture does the author, as an American, single out to embrace or criticize? If you were in her position, do you think you would have similar feelings?

7. In the chapter “The Briss,” she states (p. 141), “I realized how much we have changed in the past three months; how much I have learned about loving.” What has she learned about love? About different kinds of love? How have her perspectives on family, marriage, and motherhood changed by the end of the book? How different would the book be if it were written today?

8. On the meaning of travel, the English writer G.K. Chesterton observed: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” How does the author see America differently on her return?