What would you do if the man you loved convinced you to move to another country with him, then left you there while he was working and playing away, only to have him return and announce he doesn’t want to be married to you anymore? That’s the dilemma facing Ava Martin, a small-town girl from a college town in Upstate New York, at the beginning of Marissa Tejada‘s Chasing Athens.
When we meet Ava, she is lost, trying to figure out what went wrong in her marriage as she navigates the beauty and chaos that is modern-day Athens. The Athens Ava encounters is not the picture-perfect version on the glossy pages of a travel magazine–it is a city roiling in chaos thanks to the dire Greek economic crisis, a city of violent protests and random strikes–yet even with all of the unrest, Ava and her friends Nikos and Eleni go out in the evenings for bouzoukia, dancing and drinking into the wee hours and enjoying their lives. All three are trying to find someone–Nikos is always on the lookout for pretty exotic (for him) girls whom he tries to charm with the foreign phrases he’s learned, Eleni puts on a hard-to-get facade as she weeds out the men who don’t meet her standards and Ava tries to find away to forget Greg, the husband who has left her.
As Ava explores Athens and the Greek islands, she also begins a journey of self-discovery. Her entire life has been a series of other people setting sail for her–she has never been the captain of her own destiny. Now, with Greg out of her life and her overprotective mother across the ocean in Ithaca, New York, Ava has the chance to make her own choices and mistakes and learn from them. As she traverses the dating world with many love in translation moments,
Chasing Athens is a fantastic story of heartbreak, self-discovery and finding love again. I really loved how Marissa depicted Athens so that it came alive for the reader. I haven’t been to Athens since the late 1990s but reading Chasing Athens rekindled within me all those memories of the city, of Piraeus and the islands. What I also loved about this novel is how real Ava’s struggle felt. She is not a two-dimensional character and her honesty and naiveté after so many years of having others dictate her life ring true. She struggles, she is frustrated, she does dumb things without becoming a character we pity. Instead, we empathize because we’ve all–at some point or another–slept with the wrong man, been embarrassed on public transportation or dealt with a catty rival who tramples on our self-confidence.
Ava’s friends are another plus for Chasing Athens. Nikos and Eleni’s spontaneity and optimism (even in the face of the looming political and economic crisis in Greece) keep Ava buoyant, especially in the early days of her separation from Greg. And their unwavering support makes me wish I had them in my life too! 🙂 And then there is the Greek George Clooney…well, I won’t give anything away, since I think you should read the book.
I also love that Marissa delves into the cultural differences Ava encounters and shows us how her horizons are expanding for every day she remains in Athens. This is an American Abroad novel that really shows us what everyday life is like for an expat as they try to learn a new language, a new culture and its unwritten rules. And as a fellow expat, I can relate to Ava’s predicaments and the worries she has while trying to live in Athens.
So if you’re looking for something to read this autumn that will instantly transport you to Athens–no passport required–and you love chick lit and romantic fiction as much as I do, then you should add Chasing Athens to your To Be Read List on Goodreads. Better yet–buy it and read it now to keep that summer feeling strong within you. You may find yourself wondering why you haven’t taken the chance and moved to Greece to have your own adventure!