As World War II intrudes upon their home, three young friends risk everything for freedom, love, and a chance at a better life.
On October 28th, 1940, Mussolini provided Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas with an ultimatum: either allow Axis forces to occupy their country, or face war, and Greece’s response was swift. “Oxi!” they said. “No!”
In a small village nestled against the radiant waters of the Aegean Sea, we find Alexei, the son of a local fisherman, and his best friend Costa, who were both born on the same night eighteen years earlier and have been like brothers ever since, though now, like all the other young men in their village and throughout Greece, they will leave their homes to bravely fight for their country.
But before they go, Alexei asks Philia, the girl that he’s loved his entire life, to marry him, which sets into motion the events which will change the lives of these three and their family and friends forever.
This is how my debut novel, “Once We Were Here”, begins. But really, the story of “Once We Were Here” begins long before I ever told the story of Alexei, Philia and Costa.
The story of “Once We Were Here” begins with a shoe, and a church, and a young girl and her family in Greece during WWII that had to chew on the sole of that shoe because she was hungry and the sole was made of leather. I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard this story, at the Greek Orthodox church that I went to growing up in Michigan, and listening to a series of speakers who had lived through these events, and I can’t even remember who it was that told it.
But, I did remember the story. In fact, I did more than that.
I remembered it, and as I grew, the story seemed to grow, too.
I read as much as I could about Greece and WWII, and I asked more questions, and received more answers and stories, both from people who had lived through these events, and others who knew someone who had, and had been told their stories.
So “Once We Were Here” is, on one hand, the story of three young people in love in Agria, Greece, as WWII breaks out in Europe and intrudes upon their lives, but it’s also, at the same time, a story about how all the things that we do – however small and inconsequential they might initially seem – can have a lasting and profound effect. It’s an effect that can stay with someone for an entire lifetime; in fact, it’s an effect that can lead to a debut novel that the author of “Gates of Fire” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance” has so graciously described as “a stunning literary debut about legacy and history, war and peace, fate and destiny, the power of family and stories, and how young love can still shine and endure, even in the face of the greatest evils, and long after we’re gone.”
There’s been great evil that’s been done in this world, of that there’s no doubt; but I’m glad I went to church that day and heard about the evil, because after I heard about it, I then looked around me, at all who were gathered and listening – a community that had formed and come together on a new peninsula that was thousands of miles away from the one where we were all originally from – and all I could see, as I looked around, was the most profound, profound, profound good.
That’s what I took away from that day, when I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old, and that’s what I’ve also tried to imbue within the pages of this novel.
Every year on Oxi Day I think about my own papou, and all those who fought and gave everything to stand against evil and defend freedom. This Oxi Day, I invite you to join me by reading “Once We Were Here” as I’ve endeavored, through this story, to honor the promises that I’ve made to those that have come before us and I’ve endeavored, through this story, and telling the story of Oxi Day, to help make the memories of our ancestors eternal. I hope I’ve done the memories and the stories justice. I hope that I’ve made them proud.
About the Author
Christopher Cosmos is an author and Black List screenwriter who was raised in the Midwest and attended the University of Michigan as the recipient of a Chick Evans Scholarship. “Once We Were Here” is his debut novel from Arcade and Simon & Schuster, and more information and links to purchase can be found at www.christophercosmos.com.