Reading Guide for a Great Book: Giles Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

T10173568_10154751405950302_5469524353659028273_nhe Book Club meeting last Saturday had the biggest turn out yet! Many thanks should go to Karolina Ioannou for organizing the event and Alex Kalamarides for moderating a great discussion on a book that generated loads of interest and questions. In the three hours we only covered a small part of the discussion that Alex had prepared. So, here is his complete Reading Guide and questions. They will be helpful for all of us who read the book and those who did not, but are planning to read now. Enjoy!

Giles Milton’s “Paradise Lost”(2008)

HPST Book Club, October 25, 2014

Moderated by Dr. Alex Kalamarides

I. Introduction:

Welcome to HPST’s Book Club.

This is a special Book Club occasion for two reasons: Covering a non-fiction book of history; Remembering the Catastrophe (or Great Fire) of Smyrna 92 years after the history-changing event.

  • How long has the HPST Book Club been meeting? How many books have been covered? Other non-fiction books? What about history books?
  • Go around the room: your name, number of years living in Houston, whether you have read the book or not, other books about the Catastrophe of Smyrna and the exodus from Asia Minor you may have read (which ones?)
  • Any of you with ancestors or close relatives directly affected by the Catastrophe of Smyrna or directly involved in the events described in the book?

II. Summarizing the Book and the Author:

  • Who wants to give us a 1-2 minute summary of the book for the benefit of everyone in the audience? No criticism or details at this point, let’s just set the stage. 
  • What other books about the Catastrophe of Smyrna do you know? In what ways is this book similar or different from those other works? More recent? Author more detached from events? Centering on the Levantine families of Bournabat? Other? 
  • What do we know about the author? Highlights of his biography. What were the likely motives of the author in writing this book?

III. Discussion of the Book in Literary/Design Terms:

  • How long did it take you to read the book? How did it compare, as a read, with other historical books (in general, not just about Smyrna or Asia Minor) that you may have read? Easier/more difficult? More or less engaging? A “page turner”?
  • Did you like the style of the book, the flow of the narration, its literary qualities? What stands out in this regard? What were the flaws? 
  • How well researched did you perceive the book to have been? Were the interviews and archive materials it was based on adequate and/or deep enough?
  • Would you have felt confident in writing such a book judging from the sources and materials used? In other words, was this a modest or an audacious/far-fetched undertaking?
  • Have you noted any brief passages of the book that stood out in your mind for their narration qualities, and which you may want to share with us? Allow 3-4 passages to be read by the audience as desired. If no one comes forward, consider reading pp. 234-237.
  • Comparison with literary accounts of the Catastrophe, such as Ernest Hemingway’s “On the Quai at Smyrna”. If audience interested, read the one-page short story. What stands out in this story? The purposefully introduced element of confusion?
  • Other literary, style and design aspects of the book that you would like to discuss? 

IV. Discussion of the Book’s Historical Account and Content:

  • What was the history and social status of Greeks in Smyrna in the decades leading up to 1922? Where did these Greeks come from? Did they relate with other Greek communities in Asia Minor (Aivali, Nikomedia, Pontos)?
  • What were the relations among the different ethnic communities (Greek, Turkish, Francolevantines, Armenian, Jewish) in Smyrna?
  • What stands out in the description of the occupation of Smyrna by Greece in 1919-22? The good, the bad, and the ugly?
  • More generally, let’s discuss the concept of “The Great Idea”: the Greece of two continents and five seas. Was this a Venizelos’ concept? Where did it come from?
  • Was the idea of a Greek Smyrna, or a Greek province in Asia Minor workable? What does the author think? What is your opinion?
  • What were the Turks’ sentiments towards Smyrna prior to the Catastrophe? Where did the concept of “gavur Izmir” come from?
  • Why did the Turks burn Smyrna? What does the book say on this question? What other sources do we have? If appropriate, read from Wikipedia print out, p. 13.
  • Who claimed that the Armenians or the Greeks started the fire? Why? What does the author say on this subject? Was there an anti-Greek sentiment among certain Europeans or Americans? What about the scorched-Earth strategy of the retreating Greek Army in Asia Minor, and the burning of Manisa?
  • How important is it for the Greeks and Turks to reach some sort of consensus on the cause of the events at Smyrna?
  • What is your opinion of the stance kept by the Western warships at Smyrna? Was it correct that they simply followed orders, and did not react in a meaningful way to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding on the quai at Smyrna? How does this compare with today’s involvement of Western Powers in the Middle East?
  • What about the exchange of populations and the Treaty of Lausanne that followed the Catastrophe of Smyrna in 1923? What were the good and bad sides of this arrangement? Let’s also discuss the account provided in the book “Twice a Stranger” that was also covered in this Book Club.
  • Where do Greek readers agree and disagree with the accounts provided by Giles Milton, and why? Is Giles Milton pro-Greek, pro-Turkish, or relatively objective?

V. The Aftermath and Reflection:

  • How were the different communities affected by the Catastrophe of the city – near-term and long-term? Notable accounts in the book? Personal stories?
  • What was the legacy of the Greeks of Smyrna, and of the various types of Francolevantines across all areas (literature, music, customs, cuisine, memories of “mythical” places, trades, etc.)?
  • What emotions does today’s Izmir evoke to the descendants of the Catastrophe? Who in the audience has visited Izmir? What were your experiences there? Go around the room.
  • What represents historical memory?” What is the right mix of logic and emotion in presenting an event of such tragic proportions, so as to maintain perspective – to the extent, of course, that such perspective can serve as the basis for collective learning and societal/personal growth?
  • What other thoughts and ideas come to mind that we have not touched upon today?
  • After reading this book, and today’s discussion, what actions can we – as individuals and/or as an organization – can take so as to channel the emotions and reflections generated into something positive?

Thank you for your participation!

This entry was posted in Book Club and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Reading Guide for a Great Book: Giles Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

  1. kkioannou says:

    thank you Alex for generating a great discussion! I thoroughly enjoyed the book, company and lively chat! Such a big and important (and painful) piece of the Greek history could only bring on passionate reactions from our book club friends and not only!


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s