Anyone with Italian or Greek grandparents will completely and immediately understand what I’m talking about. It’s probably the same for other Australians who have European-born grandparents who immigrated to Australia during the war.
They use guilt.
Yes, guilt is their modus operandi when it comes to getting their children/ grandchildren/ loved ones to do exactly what they want them to do. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but for some reason, none of my friends with ‘Aussie’ grandparents ever have to deal with the soul-searing, accent-infused beseeching that goes on in many multicultural households when Nonna or Yiayia want something done that only you can do. Many people have been faced with the English spoken requests, peppered with a sprinkle of dialect, the puppy-dog eyes and the desperate hand-gripping. Many have had the ‘I could be dead tomorrow and you won’t do this simple little thing for me?’ speech thrust upon them as they search hopelessly for an escape route.
The main protagonist in this novel, Billy Tsiolkas, knows the feeling. Although he dearly loves his Yiayia, and can’t imagine a life without her, he is horrified to learn that she has given him her bucket list to complete after a health scare puts her into hospital. Although her method of completing the list is unconventional, Billy feels obligated to help her tick off each point, even if the completed points in no way help the person that they are intended to help. Her list- revolving completely around her family’s happiness- is meant to help glue the seemingly-fractured family back together, and Billy is tasked with the role, with the help of his best friend Sticks.
Along the way, Billy learns some interesting truths about his family, receives some sage advice from his Yiayia and experiences moments that only a second or third generation Australian can understand. He also learns his grandmother’s rule of thirds- in the first third of your life, you’re embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the third, you embarrass the family that you’ve made. As Billy moves through the first third, he knows that his Yiayia is on her last third, and he worries that the end may come sooner than he is ready for…
This is an absolute gem of a book, and it’s not surprising that it was short-listed for the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards in 2014. The reader is treated to a humorous and heart-warming narrative with a strong multicultural flavour and a wonderful cast of characters. Billy is excellent as the loving yet ‘long-suffering’ grandson of a Greek immigrant who pronounces ‘sheets’ wrong and doesn’t want to understand the concept of no meat in a vegetarian dish. The author, Will Kostakis, excels in finding that balance between gently mocking and lovingly recounting moments that will be both familiar and comforting to people of a similar background. Even if you don’t have that same familiarity, Kostakis’ second novel is sure to strike a chord in your heart.