A life in the shadow of the Greek civil war

There’s a certain kind of elderly woman who goes out onto her balcony to curse her neighbors, starts arguments on the bus by sounding off tactlessly about politics, the people, Germans and Russians. Eyes popping with rage, they will use any excuse to lash out at anyone they come across. In his novella «The Prey,» published in Greek by Kedros, poet Nikos Davvetas’s tackles this type of character, showing it to be a representative product of distorted circumstances in postwar Greece. It is a gripping subject, as this woman is none other than the mother of the narrator, whose incomprehensible form the son tries to decode, understand and forgive years after her death. In the endeavor to be just, the narrator tries to see the world through the eyes of his anti-hero in the first part of the novella. (To what extent the person to whom the woman recounts her life is her one friend with whom she feeds stray animals, rousing the ire of the neighborhood, one may only guess.) In the schizophrenic years of the occupation and civil war, her family finds itself in the eye of the storm as her sister’s lover engages in looting in the name of the Left and is liquidated by his comrades and the party. In the painful postwar years, the woman marries a declared Leftist and suffers the full miasma of post-civil war terrorism when her husband cannot find work without a certificate testifying to political conformity. She works back-breaking hours as a seamstress to raise her two children and, as a very attractive woman, encounters temptation in the form of a socially successful admirer who besieges her. Struggle to survive Exhausted by the struggle to survive, and after many experiences including the incipient madness and subsequent suicide of her sister, she and her husband telegraph their congratulations to the dictator during the junta, demanding some share of the sun in the Greek public service. In the second part, the son takes up the narrative. With the return to normality following the fall of the dictatorship, the efforts of a lifetime have begun to bring some financial reward, PASOK offers a voice to those unjustly treated after the civil war, but the mother has begun to evolve into the irrational creature described above. Forever dissatisfied, and incomprehensibly laying claim to her left-wing past, she finds it difficult to communicate with anyone, becoming an object of her own child’s hatred and shame. Their relationship had never run smoothly, because he always had the feeling that she was trying to manipulate him by means of unrealistic plans and absurd obsessions. Falling ill in her later years, she dies a painful death, leaving behind an enigmatic legacy – the yellowed photograph of a little girl holding a Greek flag that she had dared raise in a demonstration against the Germans. The entire life of the mother seems to be summed up in those few minutes, that single moment where she succeeded in emerging from the shadows to show her face. In short, her life began and ended in that brief moment of time when she was free to dispose of it without calculating it. In the decades to come, the mother lived like a dead woman, and perhaps that is what she tried to tell them but could not. Vaulting over 30 years of political normality in Greece, the echo of the civil war reaches to the present day. Born in 1960, Davvetas was able to witness some of the monstrosities it left in its wake and make them come to life in his extremely concise text. Few works of fiction are able to record and interpret what goes on around us without distorting their subject, which in this case is the indistinct, protean personality of a woman who spent all her adult life trapped and imprisoned, a hostage. In this story everyone is prey: not just the insane mother, but the patient father and the ultra-sensitive and compassionate son.

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