Panayotis League, Echoes of the Great Catastrophe: Re-Sounding Anatolian Greekness in Diaspora. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2021. Pp. xvii+ 200. 12 illustrations, 3 tables. Hardcover $65.00.

Towards the end of the Echoes of the Great Catastrophe: Re-sounding Anatolian Greekness in the Diaspora, we find the author, Panayiotis League, performing rebetiko music together with singer Sophia Bilides and santouri player Dean Lampros. They travel to the annual Boston Balkan Night festival in Concord, where they are met by enthusiastic crowds who sing and dance to every tune. They also play at the folk music festival in Butte, Montana. A former hub of the mining industry, established in the mid-19th century to become the second largest city in Mississippi by 1900, so much of Butte’s history could serve as a point of connection with that of Anatolian Greeks who immigrated to that region in sizable numbers; yet the way songs are introduced at the concert—focusing on individual stories, especially those of women and their newfound sexual freedom and agency rather than their marginalization within the wider social context of hard labor, destitution, and daily violence at the hands of others—prevents the performers from connecting the Anatolian Greek past found in the music with either the past or present of Butte. It is not until the musicians perform at a benefit concert at the University of Southern Maine to raise funds for the Mytilene Hospital on the island of Lesvos, Greece, where present-day refugees are being treated that they build the connection between refugee past and present. At a point between the concerts, League asks: “how can we best tell the story through this repertoire?” (142). This question of how to tell the story of uprooting is important not just for the specific performances; it resonates throughout the book: How can one best approach the legacies of the past a full century after the Greco-Turkish War and the Catastrophe that led to the violent uprooting of over 1.5 million people?

Posing this question, Echoes of the Great Catastrophe enters into the wider conversation on violent histories and the role of those who come after—Anatolian Greek descendants, vested individuals and institutions, as well as those affiliated by means of generational, geographical, or other proximities—in handling such a troubled inheritance. This issue is addressed by the work of Marianne Hirsch (2012) on postmemory and her productive exploration of this topic across different geographical contexts, or, in the case of Greece, the work of late Libby Tata Arcel (2014), in her tracing of the trauma of the Asia Minor Catastrophe across three generations. Both Hirsch and Tata Arcel acknowledge that the memories of first-generation trauma survivors are often so vivid that they leave a deep imprint on later generations. At the same time, however, many gaps in the story remain unresolved for those who come after. They fill these gaps through recourse to archival sources and their own imaginative investments which drive their creative expression and reparative acts towards past injustices. Each song and tune we encounter in the Echoes of the Great Catastrophe could be viewed as a repository for such memories, a site of imaginative projections, a prompt for further acts of recollection, remembrance, and community-making around memory. Thus, while the book focuses on the music of the Anatolian Greek diaspora, it will be of interest not only to musicologists but also to scholars and students across the humanities and social sciences who are working on cultural memory in post-conflict societies.

The musicians encountered in the Echoes of the Great Catastrophe all bear some direct personal connections to those who lived through the Catastrophe or its aftermath, most of them descendants of those uprooted. A century since the events, echoes of the pluralistic cultural life and the violent uprooting that gave an end to it resound increasingly more distant. For some of the book’s interlocutors, this brings a sense of disappointment: “I told them when they came here to record us: ‘It’s as if we used to have beautiful vases […] Now you’ve come to pick up the shards’” (127), tells Michalis Kyriakoglou, commenting on an incident in the mid-1990s when a group of researchers from the University of the Aegean, led by ethnographer Nikos Dionysopulos (1996), embarked on a project to make contemporary recordings of Anatolian music on Lesvos (released as a double CD and an accompanying book Lesvos Aiolis). League is somewhat taken aback by this remark but, rather than lament the lost word, he decides to pick up the shards and bring them back to life: “Every melody that we share feels like a small victory in a struggle against not only the passing of time but also the forgetting that so often accompanies it,” he tells his readers (72). Throughout the book, League assumes the role of both an ethnographer recording the traces of Anatolian musical words as well as a musician performing this music for others and thus actively participating in the memory-making project.

At the center of the book lies the story of the Kereakoglow/Kyriakoglou extended family, a family connected with the Anatolian Greek world—a world that spans across the coastal Asia Minor peninsula (the majority of present-day Turkey), including the interior region of Cappadocia and the Greek islands of the northern Aegean Sea (e.g., Lesvos and Chios), and is characterized by pluralistic social values and intercommunality, defined in the book as “a practical commitment to maintaining harmonious daily relations between diverse communities for the greater social and material good,” and playing a pivotal role as a keyword through which both Anatolian Greek sociality in the late Ottoman Empire and its relevance as cultural heritage in the present are examined (18). Konstantinos Kereakoglow migrated to Lynn, Massachusetts, from the village of Kapi on Lesvos in the early twentieth century after completing his military service during World War I. His brother Michalis joined him later but eventually returned to their native village in Lesvos. Both were active musicians, educated in Smyrna/Izmir, and continued their musical lives along different trajectories in the places where they settled. Strictly speaking, neither Konstantinos nor Michalis were Anatolian refugees—they did not flee their home in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War in Asia Minor. Yet they belonged to the Anatolian Greek world—a world irretrievably lost for all with the Greek military debacle of 1922—and thus they too became implicated in mourning for this loss as well as salvaging what was left of their world through cultural and social practices.

Chapter 1 discusses notebooks/common-place books of Konstantinos Kereakoglow, and through his personal archives reimagines the Anatolian Greek repertoire of the early twentieth century. Chapter 2 tracks the legacies of Anatolian music for the second generation via homemade and commercial recordings between the 1950s and 1970s. Chapters 3 and 4 approach the legacies of Anatolian Greeks in the present via contemporary performances of Anatolian Greek music on the island of Lesvos and the aforementioned music festivals in various US cities. While focusing on specific case studies, each chapter uses those cases to extrapolate and explore the wider social relations into which Anatolian music was and continues to be embedded. To do so, the author interweaves archival research, ethnographic fieldwork, performance practice, and cultural analysis, where concepts such as Anatolian Greekness, intercommunality, diaspora and mimesis act as miniature theories to probe into his arguments.

The concept of mimesis, taken to mean “creative remaking of the world through mimetic performance in a public, ritual context, regardless of the specific genre” (28), is key. Through the act of mimesis, each performance, each re-enactment, “is not merely imitative; it is fundamentally productive” (29). That is, each person, each generation, by engaging with this music, by reperforming it, not only engages tradition but also creates a new intervention, responding to issues that are relevant to the present, contemporary, social, and political context.

Even personal archives, in this context, are not personal at all but a space where intercommunality is performed. Perhaps the most moving example of this process can be glimpsed through a note found in Konstantinos Kereakoglow’s archive and reproduced in the book:

Stefanos, my friend, greetings. I’m going to ask you to send me that song “Η κόρη των κυμάτων” [I kori ton kymaton, “The daughter of the waves”] so I can learn it, and I’ll send it back to you. I’m sending you this French piece [a march in G, written in bass clef] so you can copy it too and play it, because the trombone part is really beautiful. It’s in the key of F and when you copy it you change it to G. Salutations, Kons. N. Kereakoglow (KNKC loose 19) (50).

As his note reveals, Kereakoglow’s personal collection was not just reflective of the incredibly diverse and rich musical repertoire of the period (which included local dance tunes, Ottoman court and nightclub music, Greek parlour songs, as well as numerous waltzes, polkas and tangos) but also, as co-created and co-curated, a space of dialogue and exchange.

How should a researcher entrusted with this material approach this multifaceted archive a century later? Echoes of the Great Catastrophe offers an answer to this question by showing and reflecting upon the author’s own active engagement with the archive: recording, performing it for others, listening to other performances of the same period; re-sounding in concerts to learn, to remember, and to have fun. Documenting the echoes of the Anatolian Greek worlds and engaging with them, the book thus simultaneously performs an act of preservation and revival. Captured through League’s eloquent prose, each of these acts holds a moment of magic (critically approached via Michael Taussig 1993), where music transports us to other places, fosters personal relationships, and offers an identificatory space for new generations of the descendants of Anatolian Greeks and others. Anatolian Greeks, as a diaspora within a diaspora, reconfigure our ideas of national identity, past, and homeland, as the book powerfully suggests that in early twentieth century United Sates, Anatolian Greekness was a racialized identity that was discriminated against by mainland Greeks and, thus, cannot be regarded as an integral part of the Greek diaspora but rather “a diaspora within diaspora” (23). The notion of home charted in this book is not a snapshot of an irretrievably lost world, frozen in time, but a subject for debate and imaginative work, predicated on the past, oriented towards the future, and mediated by a wide range of technologies (sheet music and the instruments used to perform it, shellac and vinyl discs, reel-to-reel and cassette tapes, and digital technologies, as encountered in the book). For those in the United States, home found in the Anatolian Greek soundscapes is “central to their experience of Anatolian Greek sociality” (83): it is not only a temporal but also a physical distance across which Anatolian Greek identity, personal and intercommunal relationships, and understandings of pluralistic cultural heritage must be mediated. Yet even for the inhabitants of Lesvos, where the Anatolian coast sits just across, apenandi, and thus presumably there is less distance to bridge between the contemporary present and the cultural heritage of the past, Anatolian Greek music as encountered by the author is reflective of the nostalgia for the past as much as it is embedded in the present permeated by the echoes of the economic, social, and political crises that have affected Greece since 2008.

Bringing the diaspora perspective and cultural performativity to the forefront, Echoes of the Great Catastrophe importantly shows that Anatolian refugee journeys did not finish in Greece with the population exchange but continued much further afield. Moreover, by using the private archive of Konstantinos Kereakoglow as a starting point, the book demonstrates that, while profoundly affecting those who lost their homes and livelihoods after the military debacle of 1922, the echoes of the Great Catastrophe reverberated across the entire Anatolian Greek community and beyond and continue to hold significance through the present. By so doing, the book offers a carefully nuanced and refreshing perspective on meaningful ways by which to engage Anatolian Greek heritage today.

Kristina Gedgaudaitė
University of Amsterdam

Kristina Gedgaudaitė is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow at the University of Amsterdam and the author of Memories of Asia Minor in Contemporary Greek Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). Her current project engages with contemporary Greek graphic novels as a site of artistic innovation and social critique.

Works Cited

Dionysopoulos, Nikos. (Διονυσόπουλος, Νίκος). ed. 1996. Λέσβος Αιολίς: Tραγούδια και χοροί της Λέσβου [Aeolian Lesvos: Dances and Songs of Lesvos]. Herakleion: University of Crete Press.

Hirsch, Marianne. 2012. The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Tata Arcel, Libby. (Τατά Αρσέλ, Λίμπυ). 2014. Με το Διωγμό στην ψυχή: Το τραύμα της Μικρασιατικής Καταστροφής σε τρεις γενιές [Persecution in the Soul: The Τrauma of the Asia Minor Disaster across Three Generations]. Athens: Kedros.

Taussig, Michael T. 1993. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York, NY: Routledge.