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CBC’s North by Northwest sits down with Stella Levantoyannis Harvey

Book cover

Stella Harvey's novel, The Brink of Freedom offers a space to understand the refugee crisis through the eyes of fictional characters.

She sat down with the CBC's North by Northwest to talk about her latest novel, The Brink of Freedom, which drops the reader right into the current day refugee crisis on the shores of Greece, a topic that resonates close to home for Harvey because of her Greek heritage.

"It's a way to reconnect to that heritage, to try to understand it and get close to it," she said. The novel centres around several characters including a refugee couple from India with their sickly son, a Greek police officer, a Romani couple and a Canadian aid worker.

"It was really trying to understand what the issue was. We hear the numbers. Last year in 2015, of the million people that came and were seeking asylum in Europe, just over 850,000 came via Greece. Close to 4,000 people died in the Mediterranean. It's hard to capture what that means," Harvey said.

Harvey was in Greece most recently during the height of the economic crisis in 2012. She immersed herself in the conflict of the country to better understand the situation. She organized the trip through the Greek consulate in Vancouver before she left which helped her gain access to refugee processing centres and government officials.

"By the time I left Canada, I had appointments booked in Athens. The Greek government was totally open, everyone wanted me to understand the situation," she said.

"That was the most important thing. I really felt like they wanted to see the success of the book. They wanted to see me succeed."

During that time, she witnessed a change in the Greek people who she remembered as famously hospitable. Racism and the rise of the far right party, Golden Dawn, skewed her initial impression of her native country.

"By the end of the writing of the book, I had totally changed my mind, because I saw quite a lot more than hospitality.

"People who have very little, going out and helping their fellow man, Syrians, other refugees, et cetera, come off boats and provide food and do whatever they can. My opinion changed considerably."

The Brink of Freedom deals with how Westerners approach foreign aid. The character of the Canadian aid worker exposes the divide between what many believe is the right way to help, and the impact those actions have on emergencies such as this.

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Stella Leventoyannis Harvey is the author of Nicolai’s Daughters and The Brink of Freedom

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