Picks and Pans Review: Greek Fire
by Nicholas Gage
"We do not reflect others' light; we radiate our own," opera legend Maria Callas once said about herself and the love of her life, shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. She could have added, "We do not write books, they are written about us." Since 1959, when Callas and her gnomish Greek god—both married to others—began their combustive nine-year affair aboard his yacht Christina, journalists and hacks have peeked through the portholes and produced dozens of biographies and tell-alls. Too bad Gage's scrupulous effort to render these flamboyant souls, whom he calls "the modern-day Odysseus and Medea," comes off so dull.
It's certainly not for lack of talent: In 1983 Gage wrote Eleni, an extraordinary account of his mother's murder in 1948 during the Greek civil war. But Gage, a former New York Times investigative reporter, takes gossip too seriously. His approach here is all fact and no fire. He is rightly proud of his exhaustive research debunking the lie that Onassis forced Callas to have an abortion. (She actually gave birth to his son in 1960; the baby died the same day of natural causes.) But Gage can't stop telling us what a good reporter he is. Throughout the book he inserts jarring notations like "documents I have uncovered" or "I have found strong proof...." The main flaw, though, is that he benumbs the reader with too many useless facts. At times, for instance, he seems more taken with minutiae about the yacht than with the passion of Callas and Onassis. And that sinks the story. (Knopf, $26.95)
Bottom Line: Lacks heat
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