Tales from a large island

A former UK university lecturer, Roger Jinkinson has written a book of short stories aptly titled «Tales from a Greek Island» (Racing House, UK, 2005). The island referred to is Karpathos, where he has lived for over 25 years. But the tales could be from any Greek island – are of every Greek island. They are the kind of stories you would hear at the kafeneion: village stories, of fishing, of beekeeping, of the winds and weather and legends of times past. The majority are Jinkinson’s own experience, but some are interwoven with the hearsay and history of both the locals and the island. There’s the strange old man who hangs around the square, the gentle giant who fought with the andartes, the old woman in black who still watches the horizon for her lost lover’s sail. And Jinkinson knows how to tell a story. Each tale is just a few pages – none longer than 10 – but each is complete with a point, moral or message. That sounds a bit trite, but the stories are not; there’s death and laughter in the lines… and Jinkinson’s poetry in how he weaves a tale. «It is possible, perhaps,» he writes in «Mosaic,» «to convey some of the larger themes of the village by telling stories, but in truth, it is the little things that count; the asides, the scents, the memories, the laughs. These are difficult to capture, impossible to describe. Village life is a mosaic of experiences, a constant barrage of the senses. You can try to understand the world by going everywhere, seeing everything, or you can sit here and learn from what is going on around you. The world is here.» And here is obviously where he feels he belongs. Jinkinson begins many of his sentences with «We in the village….» or «Those of us of the island…» It is true that he sees much with the eye of the observer but also that he lives the island’s rhythms, as well as the concerns of the villagers. In «Death in a Greek Village,» he writes: «Many years ago, when I was new to the village, I had a friend called Manolis, a handsome, friendly man who swam and fished and cooked barbecues on the beach and chased girls. And then his brother Anthonis died and everything changed.» There is much conveyed in his plain, well-timed phrases: much about ritual, much about pain, much about the simple pleasures of local, peasant life. Jinkinson even has a crack at the tourists from time to time. There are 28 tales in the collection, to be savored one at a time, or read all in one go, it doesn’t matter. «The Mule,» «The Gays» and «Michaelis and the Crane» are especially enjoyable, as are «To Live in Greece» and «The Boots» – Jinkinson’s ode to Kevin Andrews, himself an ex-pat turned native, who deeply loved Greece. That sentiment is clear in every story, whether one is new to the country or also long enchanted with it. Jinkinson has simply dedicated the collection: «To the people of the Village. Thanks for all the fish.»

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