Unhappy in America: a travelogue

We can be pretty certain that a book titled «The Mythology of America» will be about debunking that mythology or whatever aspects of it the author chooses to attack. Vassilis Vassilikos’s travelogue of the same name is certainly critical of America, and, even more so, has been packaged as such by publishers Ellinika Grammata. In an unusually silly blurb – and press release – the publisher hails the 1964 book, now reprinted as a «definitive edition» albeit with no changes in the original text, as «the first Greek book that touches on issues of globalization… subverting the way of life that nowadays dominates the world. On the surface, Vassilis Vassilikos describes the America of the 1960s. However, he essentially describes the future of that America, in other words, today’s America!» It would be easy to keep pointing out evidence that refutes the above, such as the segregated South described in the opening pages, or the fact that the book itself refers to «events» happening between July and November 1960 – that is, before the ’60s had really begun. That would be playing along too much with the book as advertised, rather than as it is. Vassilikos did not set out to write a specifically critical book about America. His other novels or short stories set in Greece have the same negative outlook about their surroundings, because Vassilikos is an author who sets out to examine the underbelly of things. This, combined with what Greek literature specialist Edmund Keeley calls his «gothic» tendencies, helps in making the book something of a horror story, where dark hues predominate and where even the most innocuous environments, such as a well-manicured suburb of pretty houses and children playing safely, are described in the most negative tones. By his upbringing, Vassilikos should have been prepared for his US trip. He attended Anatolia College, where students were not only steeped in US culture, but actively indoctrinated. Knowing that, one can almost sense a youthful rebellion against that regime. Of course, Vassilikos is entitled to describe the Golden Gate Bridge as «a piece of metal stuck like the knife at the flesh of the mountain across,» or rail against the «tragic facelessness» of San Francisco’s homes, or shriek in horror at the sight of Chicago’s skyscrapers («the real slaughterhouses in Chicago, Omaha, the whole world are inside multi-storied buildings where the blood from the butchered animals has drawn all the sharks who, silent, big and submarine, drain the blood of the innocent, and these castles are skyscrapers with bridges linking them, like the blood-soaked palaces of the Venetians, aerial bridges that cut whatever little sky the passerby has the right to see, I say HAS THE RIGHT, you cannot erase the sky from a city, gentlemen big bankers, big sharks, big gangsters! Butcher! Butcher! Butcher the rascals, the swordfish, the beasts! Justice for the lambs.») Soon, however, such ranting passages get tiresome. If you seek a book de-mythologizing America, look elsewhere. American authors have written far more exciting, corrosive stuff.

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