Writing a political chapter?

If a Greek author manages to gather a large roomful of politicians, journalists and Athenian socialites for his book launch, it is a welcome surprise. If his surname happens to be Papandreou then it is no wonder. So, it was to be expected that the launch of Nick Papandreou’s fifth book, «Days Like These» (published in Greek by Kastaniotis) on the old trading floor of the Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday was a particularly well-attended event, even though Papandreou wants to trade on the strength of his writing rather than his heritage. The book is billed as a «political thriller» centered around Vince Packard, an economist at the World Bank who is responsible for North African states. The book follows Packard’s struggle to adapt to the problem of his personal and professional lives not adding up like the macroeconomic tables he is used to. «He is a man with existential dilemmas because he wants to help others but lives in a consumer-led Western society,» said the author. The problem for Papandreou is that because of his family history it appears that any book he writes will inevitably lie in the shadow of the biggest political thriller of the day – the question of whether he will go into politics as well. So far, he has shunned the political limelight, unlike his brother George, who is the leader of PASOK, following in the footsteps of father Andreas and grandfather George. Papandreou, the author, attended Tuesday’s launch sporting a pair of bandaged fingers, which he injured playing basketball the previous evening. In fact, he spent most of the presentation dodging questions about a possible future in politics like a shooting guard trying to evade the unwanted attention of an opposition player. Even the best players are boxed into a corner sometimes and Papandreou, much to the excitement of the gathered press, admitted that he may soon dabble in the political world. «The future holds more books but you never know what will happen,» said Papandreou. «If my brother becomes prime minister of Greece, it will probably be difficult to lock myself away in an office and just write books. In this situation, one feels that he has to help in any way possible,» he added, sending journalists’ pens scurrying across notepads. «I really like the democratic process. Some people will say that with a name like mine, I have an unfair advantage over others and they would be right to a certain extent. But one would like to be judged on merit,» Papandreou said. No doubt aware that there would be abundant headlines the next morning proclaiming the entry of a fourth Papandreou into the family’s political dynasty, he tried to inject a little humor into the idea of him soon having his name on a ballot paper rather than a book cover. He said that his mother would like to start his political career by running for mayor in the village where they have their holiday home so he could solve all the local problems. Papandreou’s humor is one of his strongest assets and although «Days Like These» touches on serious issues such as globalization and the future of the developing world, the book has a smattering of amusing moments. Packard’s theory is that a country’s production of good-quality wine is the only true indicator of economic development. «Progress put beauty in the back seat and focused only on economic indicators. Vince is reacting to this and saying that we should also have good wine,» said Papandreou who, as an economist and former employee of the World Bank, is in a good position to judge where the finer things in life have been sacrificed in favor of development. The author does not hide the fact that he shares his hero’s distaste for the ugliness, as exemplified by shopping malls, that has accompanied economic development around the world. Papandreou said that this lack of attention to aesthetics is a criticism that could be leveled at the PASOK governments of the previous two decades, most of which were led by his father. Despite his economics background, Papandreou resists the temptation to lay on the theoretical side of Packard’s work too thick. In fact, for a book which revolves around macroeconomic tables, «Days Like These» is actually fairly well paced with a wide array of characters and locations – a little like James Bond having an economics degree instead of a license to kill. A big difference between Bond and Packard is that the economist is sensitive to his surroundings, as is evident in his attempt to pray like a Muslim while on a trip to Algeria in the hope that he might enter the mind-set of his hosts more easily. Until now, Papandreou has tried to create a reputation as an author without relying on his famous surname, but the question he might be asking himself now is what he needs to do to enter the mind-set of Greek voters.