‘A book about belonging’: Adelaide author Sophia Nicolis Tsouvalas releases debut memoir

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On the early morning of November 25, 1962, four-year-old Sophia Nicolis Tsouvalas took her first steps on Australian soil. She had just immigrated with her parents and sister to Sydney from Mesohoria, a village on the Greek island of Evia, aboard the ‘Patris’ in search for a better life. 

Nearly six decades later, Sophia, a first-generation migrant, decides to chronicle her family’s life story and embarks on a quest to find her own identity through the memoir ‘A Divided Heart’.

“I have great respect and gratitude for Australia because it opened its doors to my parents who were escaping poverty after World War II and the Civil War in Greece and gave my sister and me opportunities,” she tells The Greek Herald

“But even after 59 years on this land, Mesohoria is the place where I feel a complete sense of belonging and where my heart sings.” 

With her book, set in a small village of Evia and Sydney of the 1960s the author hopes to document verbal stories conveyed to her by her parents -Maria and Manoli- and to keep them alive for future generations as part of the shared social history of Australia and Greece. 

Manoli and Maria Nikolis. Photo: Supplied

“This book is a tribute to my parents. To my late father who was living here but always had a longing for his homeland and to my mother who is happy to have left Mesohoria due to her strict upbringing and the pressure she felt growing up in a strict patriarchal society.” 

“I felt like I needed to give my mother a voice,” Sophia tells of her 90-year-old mother Maria who has been living in Sydney since the family arrived in Australia. 

“Within the pages of my book, I honour not only my parents but all our parents and grandparents who took a huge leap of faith to pave the way for a better life and future for their children. 

Photo L: The Nikolis family and R one of the two trunks the family sent to Australia with all of their belongings. Photo: Supplied

“Most importantly, I feel that this chronicle of life, allows each of us to examine our heritage, our identity and where we feel we belong.”

Asked about her memories growing up in a Greek family thousands of miles away from home, Sophia reflects on the hardships of starting school without a word of English but also on the sense of community, the philoxenia and the strong will to keep the language alive.

“I could feel I was floating between cultures. We didn’t have much but we would visit our neighbours and put whatever was available on the table to share,” she says. 

Photo L: The only photo from Sophia’s final days in Greece

The book, has been read by a broad audience of different age groups from around the globe and has received great reviews.

“Before I started writing the book, I asked my mother what she would like young people to keep from her story. She said that they need to know about their roots, the origin of their parents and grandparents and their historical legacy.”

*The book ‘A Divided Heart’ is now available to pre order by emailing the author on sophtsou@gmail.com (cost $25 + postage)

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