Lili Bita interviewed about Sister of Darkness

From Greeknewsonline, April 3, 2006

Inspiration for All Who Struggle, Endure, and Overcome

By Sophia A. Niarchos

Oyster Bay, N.Y. -- Greek island life, especially Greek island life in the years before the 2nd World War, doesn't provide much of an opportunity for a young girl to experience the many adventures that call out to her heart. So it was for Lili Bita who, in her most recently published book, Sister of Darkness, describes the anxiousness she felt out of the limited future available to a girl and young woman in pre-war Greece. However, it also powerfully describes not only the sacrifices she was willing to make in the very totality of her being to overcome the limitations the past imposed on her, but also the determination to survive incredible abuse, a patriarchal culture, and a family atmosphere that didn't support her need for creative freedom.

Absent dates and the names of places, Ms. Bita's account of her life is intentionally designed to recreate the universal experience of the women of her generation and beyond. What matters to Ms. Bita is clear: how any event or living condition, whether miniscule or grand, current or in the past, at any locale, impacts the soul of a human being and how it is always possible to overcome any difficulties one encounters.

The tragic outlook that is often a defining characteristic of being Greek emerges early in the tome.

"Melancholy was the seal of the island," Bita writes, explaining in our interview that the melancholy she experienced was the result of her constant quest for a bigger life.

"I was always looking for something else; I knew there was a world outside the island, a fantastic world, but how would I reach it," she explained. Especially when she had to submit to requirements imposed by her father that she not go anywhere without being escorted by a soldier; that any visits with friends were limited to perhaps once a week and certainly not on her own; and that only whores sat by the window of their rooms, yet another limitation but this time imposed by her mother and tested by Lili, whose brother promptly put her in her place when he saw her there.

For Lili, no peace could be had out of the sheltering from life that was provided her. She craved even the hardships that men like her brother were exposed to, earning them special treatment within the walls of the house, because she could see how those hardships made their lives fuller.

"I envied Thomas the hardships because my life had nothing," she said.

Fear of her father, her "terrified" state when hearing the constraints placed on women by her family members ("why do you need to do the actress thing?"), the wartime fears and experiences, and the abusive relationship she endured to get what she needed (a ticket to America where anything was possible) are described in Sister of Darkness through a series of short essays. When asked why she chose this format for her book, Bita said: "I let the stories come out of me like a river or an angry ocean and that's how they came. In my life, I drank a stormy ocean and now, with the book, it's coming out of me."

The experience of thinking and speaking about her life for our interview actually caused in Lili the nausea that drinking the salt water of the ocean would bring to anyone. But there was no catharsis for her in chronicling the story of her life up to the time of her separation from her abusive husband.

"This book has not brought me catharsis; I feel nothing changed. I'm still struggling to achieve, struggling to live with intensity. I didn't cry then, but I cry now, recognizing what I went through. Why was I so different from others; why did I have the devil inside me to have so many experiences? Who gave it to me?"

"I'm convinced I have the spirit of another woman in centuries past. None of my family members expressed the desire for adventure that I have," she asserted.

Several decades as a writer and actress have not quelled her desire for adventure and, largely the result of book readings she has given in the U.S. and Europe, Sister of Darkness has created a different kind of adventure.

"Through love and understanding, I always felt I was close to the world. The publication of Sister of Darkness has brought the world closer to me. People who read the book told me stories of their own difficult existence. They spoke to me because they knew that I would understand and accept them. Women look at their own lives and see that the things they did themselves and buried, they can now accept. One woman confessed that she had had an abortion on her kitchen table."

A book reading at Florida International University led Peter Hargitai, an instructor in the English department there, to read Sister of Darkness and make it a permanent part of the curriculum for the Literary Analysis course he teaches.

"He appreciated the passion and honesty with which it was written and believes it helps students see things in a different light," Bita said, adding "the students are young kids but they talk about mature things." Many students were so impacted by the book that, she added, they wrote many of the 92 reviews of Sister of Darkness appearing on Amazon Books Web site.

At the book's end, Bita tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The lack of choice that Eurydice has in her journey behind Orpheus in leaving the underworld raises the issue of what it is to be a woman. To Orpheus, Eurydice is a prisoner, but Bita notes that where Eurydice disappears to, what she sees in his face when he looks at her, whether her disappearance is caused by "dark forces" or her own escape, none of these questions are answered in the story. The survivor of her own Orpheus and Eurydice myth she writes in closing that the intention of Sister of Darkness is to give women the opportunity to "write [their] own endings for Eurydice, that they don't need to accept that you'll disappear. "

"The questions they should ask themselves in writing their endings are: Did I do the things I set out to do. Did I curtail my life because of fear and circumstances? Am I honest in my relationships with men? Many women dislike men. Because they need men, they pretend that bad relationships with them don't exist. Can women live without men? I don't think so."