CULTURE

Myth and history, past and present

“So we’ll meet / On the pirates’ island / both innocent, both guilty / like facing mirrors.» Maro Douka borrowed the title of her latest book, «The Innocent and the Guilty» (pub. Kedros), from this verse by Alkis Alkaiou, also set to music by Sokratis Malamas. Douka examines herself in the mirror of the past and present, reflecting the coexistence of different ethnic groups and cultures in the same country. The book, which marks Douka’s 30-year presence in Greek literature, is set in the author’s hometown of Hania, on Crete. «My main impetus was a telephone call I received 11 years ago from a Turkish woman in Smyrna who spoke to me in fluent Greek,» said Douka. «This conversation perturbed me. Until then, I had only heard of the Turkish Cretans, but I knew almost nothing about them. I began to search the Historical Archives in Hania and talk to the locals. Even today, some of the oldest ones remember the Turkish Cretans and the many mixed marriages that used to take place in Crete. «In the book, there is the past and the present of the city. I didn’t want to write either a historical novel nor just about the past. I wanted to bring them together. In order to do that I invented two families, one Greek, one Muslim. These were real families in Hania, but as I wrote, I handled the characters and the action as I wished. «As a vehicle for the present, I used elements from detective fiction. A murder in the past, a death in the present. The modernization of the town then and now. The issue is always prosperity and modernization. Everything seems to change and everything remains the same. Before it was the Muslims, now it’s the migrants,» said Douka. The author spoke passionately about her years of research and writing, what she learned and what she gained in the process. «I feel I gained a lot from this endeavor. I understood the religion of Islam; I read history again and saw between the lines. My sources were Greek-language newspapers of the period, and I could see the bigotry and distortion in their pages. I learned to call Asia Minor Turkey, without having betrayed anything Greek inside me. I gained the knowledge that crimes and atrocious acts were committed on both sides. «My basic motive was to write about Hania – not the city as it is today, but the city saturated with history. I observed the prejudices and taboos I myself had, though I see myself as progressive, a Leftist. It was my own prejudices I rubbed up against as I wrote the book. And I realized we still have a long way to go.» Douka insists that her latest book is not a novel. It is subtitled «On the Lines of Myth and History,» and both the myth and history are personal and collective. The book deals with the shared existence of Greeks and Muslims in the past and of Greeks and migrants in the present. And, purely by chance, its publication coincides with the possible settlement of the Cyprus question – and whether Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can live in the same place under the same administration and laws. Does Douka recognize similarities in her book? «It’s living history,» she says. Usually reticent, Douka was talkative at the launch. She enjoyed the process of writing and it was obvious. Now it’s the readers’ turn to have their say.