Sunday, January 14, 2018

Jeffrey Siger: Crisis in Greece

INGRID THOFT

I'm so happy to welcome today's guest, Jeffrey Siger, to the blog.  You may know Jeff from from his terrific series featuring CI Andreas Kaldis set on the Greek Island of Mykonos (his latest adventure "An Aegean April" is out now) or from his leadership roles in Bouchercon.  Jeff lives on Mykonos part-time, and although his books are a great source of entertainment, they also provide readers with some insight into the challenges facing Greece and the rest of Europe.  When I invited Jeff to be a JRW guest, we talked about potential subject matters.  The one I found most intriguing isn't necessarily an easy topic, but I thought it was perfect for the engaged and thoughtful readers of Jungle Red.  Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your insights with us.


From the Lips of Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin is attributed to have ruthlessly said, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”  Whether or not he actually said that, or did so in quite that way, from his actions few would doubt he didn’t believe it.  And from the way our world continues to abide mass deaths and suffering, but is drawn to action by the image of a single lost life, we should not delude ourselves into thinking we have evolved far, if at all, from Stalin’s image of our world. 

Perhaps we’re not wired to consciously process so many deaths as anything more than a blur, yet in a single death we see the potential end of our own time on this earth. Or is it something else?
What prompts me to raise such an upbeat subject on this fine Sunday morning, is an ongoing catastrophe that many forward thinking minds on all sides of the issue consider the severest challenge confronting the West.  But for many it’s a hard one to get your head around because of the large numbers, and many strange names and distant places associated with it.

I began thinking seriously about it when Greece became its new ground zero, for I live on a Greek island half of each year, and write a mystery-thriller series exploring issues confronting contemporary Greece in a way that touches on its ancient roots.  The result is my new CI Andreas Kaldis thriller, "An Aegean April," in which I seek to humanize the many aspects of that tragedy, one far too often summarily described and dismissed with the simple phrase, “the refugee crisis.”

The long simmering issue of refugee migration into Greece via Turkey came to a boil in 2015, when over a matter of months, more that 600,000 men, women, and children fleeing the terrors of their homelands (mainly Syria), flooded out of Turkey across the narrow Mytilini Strait onto the largely pastoral northeastern Aegean Greek island of Lesvos.  They came in the hope of making it from there to northern Europe.  Another 400,000 refugees found their way into Greece along other routes, bringing the total number of refugees descending upon Greece in less than a year to nearly ten percent of its eleven million population.


Are your eyes glazing over from the numbers yet?  Just wait, there’s more.

At 600,000 refugees, we’re talking about seven times the population of Lesvos.  That’s the equivalent of more than 60 million people landing by boat in New York City or 28 million in Los Angeles.

How could Greece, a country in the throes of its own Great Depression, deal with such massive numbers unaided, much less how could the inhabitants of Lesvos? 


Hello, EU.  If ever there were a crisis befalling one EU member that should be shared by all members, this would seem to be the one. But despite Germany’s promise to open its arms to a million refugees—a decision many argue triggered the flood into Greece—Greece found little more than platitudes coming from the EU.  Perhaps because the EU considered Greece, Italy, and Spain its refugee filter traps, and this was simply Greece’s turn for shielding the rest of the EU from unwanted immigration.

Whatever the reasoning, as often occurs when governments cannot get their acts together, there are those who will profit off government inaction. In this instance, it turned people-smuggling into a multi-billion-euro industry in Turkey.  The smugglers, their sex-and labor-trafficking colleagues, ancillary businesses, and, of course, those protecting them, all became very rich.

But even as armadas of dangerously overloaded refugee boats made their way across treacherous seas toward a waiting frenzy of media, NGO and celebrity attention, for much of the world all remained business as usual.

That is, until the day when a single photograph of a lone child lying dead on an isolated stretch of beach galvanized world attention, and sent governments scurrying to act.

We can't show you the actual photograph due to copyrights issues.

Cue the Stalin quote.

Years have past since then, but the refugee crisis continues in Greece with 50,000 still detained in relocation centers—as they’re officially called, though some refer to them as hotspots, and others as concentration camps.  Worldwide, more than 65 million refugees remain displaced and in dire need of protection and care.

It is a crisis that shall not go away, certainly not as long as there are leaders who regard Stalin’s words an action plan for dealing with their own populations.

Refugees arriving on Lesvos

So, what is the civilized world to do?  How about looking at refugees as individual human beings, not statistics, and building an overall plan up from there.  That might just work.

At least that’s my take, and why I wrote "An Aegean April."


Jeff is joining us today to answer your questions, big and small.  Thanks, Jeff, for educating me this Sunday morning!

Gorgeous Mykonos
About Jeff Siger
I am an American living on the Aegean Greek island of Mykonos. A Pittsburgh native and former Wall Street lawyer, I gave up my career as a name partner in my own New York City law firm to write mystery thrillers that tell more than just a fast-paced story. My novels are aimed at exploring serious societal issues confronting modern day Greece in a tell-it-like-it-is style while touching upon the country's ancient roots.

Some Mykonian friends told me if I started sprinkling murders with a message across my adopted country's tourist paradises, I'd likely be banished, if not hung. No one was more amazed than I when my debut novel, Murder in Mykonos (a sort of Mamma Mia setting for a No Country for Old Men story), became Greece's #1 best selling English-language novel (and a best-seller in Greek, as well).

As of September 2017 I have eight Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novels out there with a ninth coming in January 2018 and receive no more than the customary number of death threats. I'm diligently trying to improve my percentage in that regard with posts about Greece each Saturday on the Murder is Everywhere blogsite I share with nine renowned mystery writers from around the world.

It's been a remarkable journey, punctuated most notably by The New York Times selecting the fourth in my Andreas Kaldis series (Target: Tinos) as one of its five "picks for the beach" while calling the entire series, "thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales;" Left Coast Crime's nomination of the fifth in the series (Mykonos After Midnight) in 2014 as Best Mystery in a Foreign Setting; a 2016 Barry Award Best Novel Nomination for my seventh in the series (Devil of Delphi); starred reviews and official government citations; and this quote from Fodor's Greek Islands Travel Guide under a section titled "Mykonos After Dark," which colleagues say I should consider the equivalent of winning an Oscar: "Some say that after midnight, Mykonos is all nightlife—this throbbing beat is the backdrop to Jeffrey Siger's popular mystery, Murder in Mykonos."

My work is published in the US, UK, Germany (German), and Greece (Greek and English), and I'm honored to have served as Chair of the National Board of Bouchercon, the world's largest mystery convention, and as Adjunct Professor of English at Washington & Jefferson College, teaching mystery writing.







35 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us, Jeff. I’m sure this piece will open many eyes . . . even though we think we know so much about the refugee crisis, it’s difficult, perhaps, to understand the sheer magnitude of the issue when one isn’t standing in the midst of it.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone looked at another person as someone to be valued and cared for, to never be allowed to become a mere statistic?

    I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading your stories, but I look forward to meeting Andreas in “An Aegean April” . . . .

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    1. Thanks, Joan. You're absolutely right about our minds shutting down in the face of the sheer numbers. Yet it is precisely that sort of human reaction which allows those in authority who actually could make a difference to drift along saying the right things politically, while doing nothing.

      And Andreas looks forward to meeting you.... :)

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  2. I also thank you for sharing your insights. I had heard that your books were a great view of modern Greece and, as they are published by the wonderful Poisoned Pen Press, are on my list of mysteries to try. I might have to jump in mid-stream to the series, just for fun. How wonderful that you can educate us all through mysteries. I love that.

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    1. Ahh, Kay, you sure do know how to bring a smile to a writer's face the first thing on a Sunday morning (at least first thing on the US West coast). Thank you for your kind words, as they reflect what I try to do in my books.

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  3. "No more than the customary number of death threats"... customary for what?

    I admire and enjoy writers who make a point of including some social commentary or issue-illustrating into fiction. I'd like to do the same myself. How do you shine a light on these issues without beating us over the head?

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    1. Jim, if I knew the answer to "customary for what" I wouldn't have the threats. :). Nah, just kidding about the threats, the Greeks don't take issue with what I say, as they know I'm just telling it like it is. In fact, if you check out the acknowledgments in my books, government ministers and other officials are credited for their assistance.

      As for how to shine the light, for me it's simply a matter of keeping in mind at all times that no matter how meaningful the revelation you wish to share, unless it fits right in and moves the story along at the same clip as rest of the book, it is OUT. Pace and story rule.

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    2. I second Jeff's comment about the revelation or social commentary being secondary. If a book is too preachy, I feel like it distracts from the main story. The best social commentary is the one that you don't even really notice until you close the book and realize how much you've learned.

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  4. Ho Jeff. I enjoyed that very beach on Mykonos in the early 1960s when I was the only person on it! I spent a month there with a college friend during a three month trip around Greece. And one of the things I remember was the hospitality of the Greek people. How that hospitality must be overwhelmed right now!

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    1. The locals still talk about your time on the island, Rhys, but I shall never tell. :) Yes, I'm sad to say that the island's new role as a 24/7 playground for the uber-rich and want-to-be-famous has dramatically changed Mykonos since you were there, but thankfully not the attitude of its people. Mykonians remain as hospitable as you remember them.

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  5. I remember crying when I first saw the picture of that little boy on the beach. I immediately wrote out a check to relief services. Jeffrey, thanks for sharing this.

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    1. We all did, Hallie. It's one of those photos that rallies us to action and remains forever burned into our minds. For me, the photo of Aylan Kurdi on that beach ranks right up there with the anguished young woman student kneeling over her fallen friend at that infamous Kent State anti-Vietnam War demonstration in 1970.

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  6. It's heartbreaking, the worldwide diaspora from one horrible situation to hopeful safety elsewhere.

    However, there's an elephant in the room that no one wants to address: exploding overpopulation. World resources are beginning to get scarce, and the effect we humans have on them is worsening, via earthquakes, fires, disease, and other climate change factors. I fear these human tragedies will only get worse unless we very quickly reverse the trend of a doubling population every couple of decades.

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    1. That's an interesting point, Karen, one directly tied into refugees in a way many don't see. Drought and disease also make refugees, not just wars, because regardless of the cause, when death is likely for those who remain, the rational choice is to flee. In nations where there is official indifference to matters of over-population, there is sadly too often concomitant indifference to drought and disease by those who see them as "nature's" ways of controlling a booming population.

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  7. Jeff, thank you so much for this illuminating piece. I think that particularly in America, we're so caught up in our own drama these days that we've put on blinders to the rest of the world. But fiction, like photographs, reaches people in ways that no news story can.

    I'm very much looking forward to your book. I've had long fascination with Greece, especially the islands, starting with reading Mary Stuart's wonderful novels set there when I was a teen, then discovering Gerald Durrell's books. Don't know how I've missed your series, but am going to remedy that!

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    1. Jeff's books will transport you to the Greek Islands, Debs, but the islands of the locals, not just the beach-goers. The series is a delight!

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    2. Thank you, Deborah (and Ingrid too), for mentioning my work in the same sentence as that of Mary Stuart and Gerald Durrell :). Yes, our American Drama (a true capital D) has pushed the rest of the world's events into the shadows, except where it directly affects US. In the long run, what we're missing now, will likely come back to haunt us--as we've seen happen oh so may times before.

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  8. I was completely blown away by the numbers that Jeff provided in this piece. Including the comparisons to NYC and LA gave me insight into the refugee crisis that I haven't had.

    I imagine that the residents of Lesvos and similar communities must feel resentful of and exhausted by this deluge, even though they have been welcoming and supportive. What are the locals' attitudes at this point, Jeff?

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    1. Yesterday, as I was driving to Book Carnival for a signing event, I caught a TED talk on NPR by David Milliband, head of the International Rescue Committee. I agree with the sad outlook implicit in what he said for the 65 million refugees world wide in dire need of aid. How could attitudes not be deteriorating on Lesvos both for the detained and those who live around them? Neither want the situation and both are frustrated at EU inaction. Dunkirk represents the rescue of a fleeing 338,000 in a matter of eight days. We're now into years for the 8,500 still penned up on Lesvos...and 50,000 across Greece.

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  9. Yes, exactly, we all did. But still...what can be enough? It's so--well. You know. Thank you for this, dear Jeff!
    And yes, timeliness works because a book is "real" for itself..so how can you ignore what's really happening? It's all part of--and I don't mean to make this anything put paramount--"setting." And a way of taking us, authentically, to a new place.

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    1. Right once again, Hank! Setting is a principal character to my way of thinking, as it lends perspective to the story. So, whether a tale about today or a thousand years ago, it is setting that takes us there.

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  10. Thank you for writing this blog, Jeff, and for having the courage to continue to address hard issues in your books. As Hank writes, they are a part of the setting and should be included. Many writers opt to ignore current events, especially hard ones, in the backdrop of their stories. The omission justified with a concern that the book will appear dated or that the author writes to entertain. I suspect part of the reluctance is due to editorial pressure on the writer. Happy that PPP does not subscribe to the formula.

    Looking forward to An Aegean April.

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    1. Thanks, Kait. When I gave up my law practice to write, I promised my self I would not write fluff. I'd tell it like I saw it, but not take cheap shots. I think that philosophy is why the Greeks accept what I have to say, and my publisher is wholly supportive.

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  11. This was a very heartrending and insightful read today. Thank you, Jeff, for being on the frontline of the crisis and not flinching from the truth of the situation. I am looking forward to reading An Aegean April.

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    1. Thank you, Jenn. Those are most appreciated words, and I hope to hear from you after you've read An Aegean April.

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  12. Jeffrey, how brave of you to leave a career as a Wall Street lawyer and follow your passion of writing. And, now you are having a much larger and important effect on the world as an author who addresses issues which affect us all, even though your books are centered on Greece and its problems. The issue of refugees is one that should concern even those of us sitting in our warm little houses amidst the snow. The tragic picture of that precious child shows us that a refugee is a person with hopes and dreams and needs and wants just like we are. They are flesh and blood, and they deserve compassion. Thank you for bringing the numbers to us that, while they may gobsmack us, inform us of just how large the number is of people in need.

    I am rather envious of you living in such a beautiful place, and I intend to start looking at it through your eyes by reading your series. The series has actually been whispering to me for some time. Now, to start stretching my days into more that 24 hours.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. As I've said on other occasions, once I accepted the principle that I would not live for ever, the decision to follow my passion for writing was simple. :) The trick is to find issues to incorporate into by books that truly matter and transcend parochial nationalistic issues. So far, so good. Or at least I think so. :)

      This book though, has struck a cord in me that rings true to every reason why I walked away from the law to write. Thanks again.

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    2. You're not going to live forever?! Say it isn't so!

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    3. I'll try clicking my heels together three times to see if that works, but the true trick to thinking you're living forever, is to read an utterly boring looooonnnggg book to the bitter end. An experience one never need confront when reading anything by the Jungle Reds Crew.

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  13. Aegean April is a wonderful book, Jeff, entertaining and yet so thought-provoking. My husband and I discussed the difficulties of the refugee crisis for a long time after I finished reading it. It's easy to become paralyzed with frustration, but looking at each refugee as an individual is a way to hope. I thought of an old joke I heard about a boy and his dad walking along a beach when they came across hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand after the tide went out. They boy picked up one starfish and threw it back into the sea, and his dad said, "that's not going to make any difference, son, there are too many to save." The boy says, "It made a difference to that one."

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    1. I love that story, Donis. It's so true. I always have a similar thought when I watch prescription drug ads on TV: 10% of patients experienced some horrible side effect. Not good for that 10%!

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    2. Donis, that sounds like the sort of wisdom I've come to expect from your characters. I even see a title in it: "The Old Starfish Didn't Have It Coming." :) Thanks my friend, and hope all's going well with Don.

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  14. Excellent essay, Jeff. Looking forward to the reading the book.

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    1. Thanks, Triss. Much appreciated. Go Brooklyn!

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  15. Very thoughtful and candid, Jeff. A good reminder that unless we see the specific individual in the blurring crowd of refugees it's unlikely we'll act. Thanks for posting this.

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    1. Thanks, Dennis. Yes, it’s best we never forget that We the People is premised on inalienable individual rights...and that premise should not end at political borders.

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