CULTURE

Blurring the boundaries between reality, imagination

Menis Koumandareas is a distinguished Greek writer who has received the National Book Award three times and the Blue Book Award at the 2001 Frankfurt International Book Festival. His latest book «Noah» (published by Kedros), an inner journey in search of happiness and lost values, is an allegory that works on many different levels. Inspired by the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark and the Flood, the novel has leading characters named after those in the Biblical story; the fact that these are not the characters’ real names but only pseudonyms (we are never given their names) makes all them more symbolic. The book, nevertheless, is not about religion. This modern Noah might still pray and hope to communicate with God, yet his main concern is to find a way out of his conventional lifestyle, out of consumerism and materialism, and to reach a higher spiritual level that will lead him to true happiness. Noah, the leading character, is a repressed homosexual. Haunted by feelings of rejection since childhood, when he was teased by his classmates and constantly struggled against the crushing disapproval of his uncomprehending father, Noah is obsessed with the idea of the Ark and has been planning the voyage since his school days. He is only able to carry it out years later, along with his wife (who is aware of her husband’s homosexuality but has never fully understood him) and three sons, two of whom are already married. The elder sons and their wives represent today’s society: lazy and unimaginative, they are only concerned about their own well-being. Only the youngest son and his girlfriend share the father’s interest in soul-searching. The voyage itself is an adventure which blurs the boundaries between reality and imagination: For Noah it is a reconstruction of the Biblical Flood, but his wife, his elder sons and their wives don’t share his feelings and perceive the trip simply as a cruise. Through visions, revelations and a fierce inner struggle, Noah tries to come to terms with himself and overcome all the conventions that have been imposed on him throughout his life while still having to put up with the mockery of his wife and children, who do not share his visions and have always considered him half-mad. Not that Noah himself is innocent: Too uncompromising and stubborn in his views and far too absorbed in himself and his own dreams at times, he is also the one who invites the devil to join them in this re-enactment of the Biblical journey. Noah is a complex character: He might, on the surface, seem like the average Greek, with a family and a secure job at the bank, who just lives his life without getting too involved in what happens around him. He is not affiliated to any political party and is not keen on any ideology. There is another side to him, though. He is in fact a modern-day dreamer, who has been obsessed with his dream voyage since childhood and has been biding his time, waiting for the right moment to embark on it. Lacking the political overtones of Koumandareas’s previous novel, «Twice a Greek,» «Noah» is a critique of contemporary lifestyle that is delivered with humor and irony. As for whether the voyage was successful or not, that is left for the reader to decide.