The Good Greek Girl by Maria Katsonis

The subtitle of The Good Greek Girl, ‘from the highs of Harvard to the lows of the psych ward’, says it all: this is a brave memoir from a woman who has experienced success in her professional and academic career, but also the torment of mental illness.

As the eldest child in her family, Maria Katsonis had the expectations of her migrant parents resting upon her. She fulfilled the role of ‘good Greek girl’ at school and university, until she decided to follow her heart and leave her dry economics course to work as a producer in amateur theatre. Her parents, particularly her father, were furious, but it wasn’t until she was truly honest with her parents and revealed she was gay that Maria received his full wrath. After he verbally and physically assaulted her, she distanced herself from her family and lived with this unpleasant chasm in her life.

Her acceptance into Harvard to study for her Masters degree was a wonderful and inspiring time for Katsonis. But her return to Australia was taken up with the care of her mother, debilitated from a stroke, and then her father, who deteriorated rapidly after his wife’s death.

In the second half of the book, Katsonis focuses on her mental illness: ‘I’d never imagined that it would happen to me, that depression would enter my life like a thief and steal my mind,’ she states. Her depression and anxiety is so severe that she huddles in bed for weeks and only goes out to the local convenience store for food. Eventually a GP admits her to a private psychiatric hospital where she begins a complex journey of recovery.

The quality of Katsonis’ writing is superb. She demonstrates a playful sense of humour despite the gravity of her topic. This book is a must for readers who admired Madness by Kate Richards, or anyone who enjoys books about relationships between migrant parents and their Australian-born children.

Annie Condon is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.