Stavros Stavros Mavrakis, Greek immigrant and proud owner of the Gala Diner, believes he has just ten days to live. As he prepares for his final hours, he sends a scathing email to his ex-wife and three grown daughters, outlining his wishes for how they each might better live their lives. With varying degrees of laughter and scorn, his family and friends dismiss his behavior as nothing more than a plea for attention, but when Stavros disappears, those closest to him are forced to confront the possibility of his death.
A vibrant tour de force that races to a surprising conclusion, Let Me Explain You is told from multiple perspectives: Stavros Stavros, brimming with pride and cursing in broken English; his eldest daughter Stavroula, a talented chef in love with her boss’s daughter; her sister, the wounded but resilient Litza; and many other voices who compose a veritable Greek chorus.
Funny yet deeply moving, this “pitch perfect” (San Francisco Chronicle) novel delivers a thoughtful meditation on the power of storytelling. In Let Me Explain You, Annie Liontas explores our origins and family myths, the relationship between fathers and daughters, the complex bond of sisterhood, hunger and what feeds us, but “the novel’s true heart is one filled with love and forgiveness” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune).
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Let Me Explain You
To: Chef.Stevie.Mavrakis@saltrestaurant.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;
Subject: Our Father, Who is Dying in Ten Days
Dear, Family. Daughters & Ex-Wife:
Let me explain you something: I am sick in a way that no doctor would have much understanding. I am sick in a way of the soul that, yes, God will take me. No, I am not a suicide. I am Deeper than that, I am talking More than that.
DEAR STAVROULA, MY OLDEST. Please grow out your hair. It is very very short. This is one little thing that can change everything, you will see what I am saying when you take this small but substantial advice. Sometimes if we are who we are supposed to be on the outside, we are who we are supposed to be on the inside. The hair is the thing to trust and leave alone, and it will take care of you.
Let me explain you something: your father has seen some of the world for it to be enough. There is a way to be for the normal society, and you are not it. The hair says things about you that, yes, they are true, but the hair is not a fortune-teller. The hair is not the thing that has to point the way, like a streetlight.
I am not somebody religious, but this I know: Death is coming. In ten days, I promise you, your father the man will cease, he will be dust, he will be food in the worms. What do we owe our father? This is the question you can say to yourself at this time. Who can deny a dead man—a dead father—the thing that he demands?
No, I am not sick like my brother in Crete, who die with emphysema (this is Greek en which means in and physan means breath).
DEAR LITZA, MY SECOND, please go to church. You could say, no dad, you go to church then we will talk about if I go to church, but what I am talking about here are lessons that I should have taken for myself if my father had the wisdom to give me awareness, which I am holding out for you.
Litza, let me explain you something. Litza, you have problems.
Litza, nobody marries for a big wedding and then divorce one week later. When your mother and I divorce, it took years off our life. Litza, nobody destroys property the way when you come here into my diner and smash the dessert case with my own stool. The same is true for your sister, which you take that same stool and break her car window with it, even though you deny this always. Are you on drugs, Litza? Are you the same low-life as your biological mother, Dina?
Litza, you need God in your life.
Litza I see how much helping you are needing, and I know that God has to exist, because he is the only one who can do for you. I cannot do for you. I can only do for you what I am done for you.
And here, I will tell you this secret, that I have questions for God—Are you real? Are you here for me, Stavros Stavros Steve Mavrakis? Am I Your Forgotten Son? What is the meaning of this life that is too sorry for what it could be? Even though I have succeeded more, much more, than any foreigner would do in my country and I have now two diners and plans for selling one of them so that I have a little something for the future, yours not mine since my future is not something I can belong to any longer, and not your Mother since she is a thief, I’m sorry if it is a truth.
I, Stavros Stavros, have ask God to erase the mistakes of my life; and God has answer, in a matter of speaking, That it is best to Start Over, which requires foremost that We End All that is Stavros Stavros. No, not with suicide. With Mercy.
Yes, Litza, you must go to Church. To pray. For your father, yes, and for yourself.
DEAR RUBY, MY LITTLE ONE that I have adoration. It is a good rule to follow that if the mustache is weak, so will be the man. Look at your father’s mustache, which it is a fist! Forget the boys, Ruby, find yourself a man who encourages you get your own education, because you don’t want to be one of those woman who takes and takes and does not appreciate all of the way her husband slaves, like your Mother. Don’t go marrying some losers. Which you know I am talking about Dave. Why choose a man with the facial hair of an onion? When you can choose instead one of my assistant cooks, who make a decent living and has dreams of owning their own diner the way their mentor has, which is your father.
Otherwise, you are doing OK.
DEAREST MY EX-WIFE, Carol, the Mother, who divorce me one year ago. Which I am still, as a generous person, paying for things like to repair the plumbing. I am talking to the woman who is still my Wife in death, even if she did not know how to mourn me in life: please be the Ex-wife a Wife should be, in sickness and health. Even though you poison Stavroula and Litza against me from the moment I bring them into this fat country, and Ruby from the moment you bring her into the world. That is why I am asking: you should wear only black for the next year. To show a sign of honor for the man who walk much of this life with you by his side.
If you have any confusions, Daughters and Wife, you can email a response. I will answer them all. Such as, what is missing for a man at the end of his life when the path is clear and wisdom is the greatest? . . . the respect and love for the pateras!
Signed within Ten Days of Life Left, and a Dying Promise, Your Father: Stavros Stavros Steve Mavrakis
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Let Me Explain You includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Haunted by a dream and a goat, Greek immigrant and diner owner Stavros Stavros Mavrakis composes an email to his three daughters and ex-wife predicting his death in ten days’ time. But the advice he freely hands out proves little more than laughable to his children, who are busy building their own adult lives: Stavroula, a talented restaurateur, pines for her boss’s daughter; Litza, wounded but strong, is trying to find her own way through the world; Ruby has eloped. Meanwhile, Stavros’s increasingly frantic attempts to arrange his affairs bring up difficult questions for his daughters not only about their relationships with their father, but about the bonds they share with each other. As an idle threat transforms over ten days into a very real crisis, the Mavrakis family must learn how to grow and how to forgive.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. The title of the novel takes its name from Stavros’s opening admonishment of his family, a phrase in broken English that typifies this patriarch’s tone. For Stavroula it is haunting, this “Let me explain you something that had been explaining to her, all night, what she needed to do” (page 34). Consider how Stavroula and Litza turn the refrain around and adopt it to empower themselves.
2. In his opening email, Stavros implores Litza to let God help her find the right path, but also admits to personal doubts. He writes, “I have questions for God—Are you real? Are you here for me, Stavros Stavros Steve Mavrakis? Am I Your Forgotten Son?” (page 8). How does this doubt relate to the Last Supper that Stavros prepares on page 99? Where else do you see religious imagery playing a role in Let Me Explain You?
3. Liontas structured her novel in ten daylong chapters counting down what Stavros believes to be his final week and a half on earth. Considering that the chapter titles refer to the well-known “stages of grief,” how do you interpret this structure?
4. Carol describes how neatly folding and stacking Ruby’s jeans lead her to sense “a similar layering happening in her daughter’s life” (page 64). What unique experiences does Carol have parenting Ruby that she did not have as a stepmother to Stavroula and Litza?
5. As a child, Litza adored her estranged mother despite the fact that she can only recall her “in blurs that more resembled bruises than face” (page 116). But after establishing a relationship, Litza admits that “living with Dina during her teenage years was worse than life with her parents” (page 310). Why do you think this is?
6. When Stavros asserts that the things that matter are “work, succeeding, a house, a business, children to carry the Mavrakis name,” Dina responds skeptically (page 206). How does Dina’s childhood affair with Angelos inform this conversation with her husband? What do you make of her persistent fantasy, borne of youthful disappointment, of “finally getting that baby elephant, stringing it with lights, strutting it through town, and delivering it to Papous’s doorstep, where he would come back from being dead just to give her a thousand kisses” (page 258)?
7. Before he disappears, a lullaby lifts a weight from Stavros’s shoulders “up to the stars to take its place in their glinting faces” (page 125). Litza also has a comparable experience when she visits the cathedral on page 162, and on page 219 Dina drives her plane “farther, farther, farther, into the thermosphere. Just shy of crossing the Kármán line, the thin airless boundary between atmosphere and space.” How do you interpret the theme of weightlessness throughout Let Me Explain You?
8. A goat appears in Stavros’s portentous dream, and a real goat lingers at his diner. This animal appears as a significant symbol throughout in the novel. What do you think of the way Stavros addresses the prematurely born Stavroula as “little goat” (page 253)?
9. When Stavros eats galaktoboureko in the United States for the first time, he remembers the way his mother used to prepare the pastry and “without realizing it [he] was makinggalaktoboureko into something foreign: from now on when he thought of galaktoboureko, as a father or an old man, he would not just remember galaktoboureko in Greece. He would have to remember galaktoboureko in America” (page 240). How does this idea of the immigrant experience compare to Marina’s sense of “reinvention” in America?
10. Consider Stavros’s metaphorical use of eggs on page 157 (“In the history of the world, it is eggs that have change everything”). Dina details the “Year of the Broken Yolks.” How do their worldviews converge, and how are they distinct?
11. When Stavroula achieves a level of intimacy with July, she realizes that “this was kindness. A friend, giving her shelter” (page 320). Given the way she weighs Mother’s love against July’s love on pages 70 and 71, how do you interpret this later scene? What might Stavroula and July’s future together look like?
12. On pages 300 through 302, Liontas summons a story of three daughters—“the first, as dear as gold. The second, as dear as wood. The third, as dear as salt”—that ends with the third daughter buried beneath her father’s “throne of salt.” The epilogue on pages 339 and 340 includes an unsent letter in which Stavros imagines holding three daughters as if they were fish—“one is beautiful, one has gills so small it is a miracle that she survives, and one is so fierce she is like a dark star exploding”—and ultimately dying as a whale for them to feed on. In what other ways does Liontas employ folklore in the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. On page 309 Litza rejects the ideas proposed in To Live Until We Say Good-bye by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whose five stages of grief Liontas uses as chapter titles throughout Let Me Explain You. Take a look at a copy of To Live Until We Say Good-bye and On Death and Dying. How useful do you feel self-help books are in difficult times? Discuss your opinion with your book group in light of your own life experience.
2. Young Stavros’s courtship of Dina is informed by his sense of the American Dream: “What better place to be a man? To work, to earn, to imagine a life richer than his parents’, to prove his brothers wrong, to make something his own, to make children who would honor him and gratefully inherit his fortune. What better place to reinvent himself—to reinvent the world?” (page 197). What experience, directly or indirectly, have you had with the expectations immigrants bring to the United States about personal success? Can you imagine a foreign place where you might be able to better realize your dreams? Discuss.
3. The snapshot of Stavroula and Litza in Stavros’s office betrays a lot about their relationship as children (page 86). Share a photograph with your book group that you feel shows something about your relationship with a friend or family member and explain the context behind the picture.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“Let Me Explain You” is a difficult book to review. On one hand, the writing is beautiful and tragicomic. On the other, it can be outrageously offensive. I’ve given it four stars, but please be sure to thoroughly read my review and any others you may find to see if it’s a good fit for you. At its heart, “Let Me Explain You” is a story about the American Dream, reality, and the hot mess that makes up most families, whether we want to admit it or not. It begins with Stavros Stavros Mavrakis (actual name) writing an email to his ex-wife and daughters, announcing that he will be dying in ten days. As the reader will soon come to learn about Mavrakis himself, it is in parts tender, sad, and downright mean. That’s the tone for the entire book. While parts had me laughing out loud, others made me want to choke Mr. Mavrakis, and some made me want to cry. To me that’s wonderful writing. The sections about the interactions between the family were my favorites, because we all have those relationships that are love/hate. Or, at times, hate/hate. It was all very realistic with excellent character development. Unfortunately, the main character is pretty much the equivalent of your racist uncle at a holiday dinner. He has opinions, he does not care if you like them, he believes everyone needs to hear them, and at some point you realize he is in reality a bitter old man who is lonely. So, if you can have a conversation with “that uncle” and still be able to see some good in him, you will probably enjoy this book. If you avoid family dinners because of him, then avoid it. As for myself, I found “Let Me Explain You” an excellent debut novel and look forward to reading more from the author. This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.