Stella Leventoyannis Harvey’s new novel The Brink of Freedom tells the story of desperate searches for new beginnings. The ensemble cast are struggling to escape in so many ways—to shed some shameful aspect of the person they’ve become, or seek liberation from the miseries of poverty and violence. Set in Greece, the book takes place at the convergence of the country’s economic crisis and the humanitarian disaster of refugees seeking asylum.
The plot has tapped directly into the vein of the current European migrant catastrophe, although Harvey has been researching and writing the book for the last three years. Cairo-born, and of Greek parentage, Harvey’s investigation led her to Greek detention centres and Roma camps, and to interview many refugees and ordinary Greeks.
In the book a young migrant couple, originally from India, leave Greece to search for a better life in Germany. They leave their sickly son Bo with another couple, Mirela and Kem, in a Roma camp. The conditions are filthy, and the Roma scrounge for scraps of food out of garbage dumps. Shelby Holt, a Canadian aid-worker, befriends the family. She offers to give Bo an education, and a better life.
Soon Shelby and Kem end up in prison over the apparent “sale” of the boy. A kind police officer, Christos, tries to unravel the truth, but walks a tightrope between his instinct that there is no villain in the tale, and his unsympathetic boss, Commander Kefalas, who calls the migrants “cockroaches.”
Bo is sent to live with Christos and his family, but he misses his mother. Believing he must return to the Roma camp to wait for his mother’s return, he escapes. This sets in motion a panicked search, and a series of events that upends the lives of all those drawn together by the small, ailing boy.
There are a couple points in the novel at which the timing of events and intersections of the characters felt a touch too handy, too coincidental. However, this is a small criticism in the face of the emotional truths and depths Harvey plumbs with her characters. Perhaps the greatest strength of the novel is the shades of nuance in their personas. There are no-out-and-out villains (with the exception of the power-hungry Kefalas).
In The Brink of Freedom each character struggles to be good, to do better, though they may be hobbled and misguided by their own histories of abandonment and abuse. Yet for all the damage abandonment has done—by mothers and fathers and governments—it has not robbed any of them of hope. Even in the darkest times there is the chance to change, to find asylum, to start over and have a new life.
The book launch for Stella Leventoyannis Harvey’s new novel, The Brink of Freedom, will be held at the Whistler Writers Festival on Saturday, Oct.17 from 6:30 – 7:30pm at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. The event is free, and all are welcome to attend.
As published in Pique Newsmagazine