CULTURE

Simplistic take on compelling authentic tale

I am afraid that Rhea Galanaki’s latest novel, «Amilita, vathia nera» (Silent, Deep Waters), published by Kastaniotis, is not a convincing portrayal of the abduction of a young Cretan woman, Tassoula, an event that rocked Greece 55 years ago. I am not talking about whether this fictional chronicle accurately records the real facts, because that would entail a different, highly complex discussion. What I am talking about is the extent to which the narrative convinces us that the controversial events can have happened as the author saw them and relates them. The reason Galanaki has failed is due, in my opinion, to the initial project, the manner in which she approached her material, the viewpoint she adopted and the techniques she applied to present it. In Iraklion, Crete 1950, the 35-year-old national resistance hero, Costas Kefaloyiannis, aka Koundocostas, eloped, according to the writer, with his sweetheart Tassoula. According to the unwritten code of justice that applied in the area, the episode could have ended conventionally in a simple wedding. Only the protagonists were not anonymous citizens, but members of two powerful, politically opposed Cretan families, which turned what was usually a heedless romantic act into a major political issue. Idealized tone Galanaki had access to abundant written evidence to which she has added personal evidence from the present day. Her position is that the story is one of the great modern romantic idylls, which is why she chose an idealized lyrical tone to relate the events. Koundocostas is described as «a born rebel,» «the indomitable mountaineer,» «the lordly, impetuous and fearless son of Crete,» while Tassoula is compared to Helen, Juliet and Arethusa. The incongruity of seeing the Greece of 1950 through the eyes of Homer’s storyteller Demodocus or the 17th century writer Vicenzos Kornaros emerges clearly in the persistently positive descriptions of Tassoula’s father, whom the narrative presents sometimes as «a haughty golden eagle» and sometimes as «St George killing the dragon.» But nowhere does the author evaluate the fact that, justifiably or not, that individual made a decisive contribution to the indisputably political turn that the matter took: Apart from being an «injured» father, Georgios Petrakogiorgis was a mighty Liberal Party deputy who mobilized the state mechanism against the couple. Instead, Galanaki blames the callous post-civil war state, a state that is artificially depersonalized. Whenever its politicians and administrators appear on stage, the writer presents them outside the context of any political ties and dilemmas. This is what happens when you treat an historical event from the viewpoint of legend. Using the excuse that certain unwritten laws survived in Crete, you treat it as an archaic society, and then you adopt the idyllic modes that ancient societies chose in order to describe themselves. The result is chaotic, because you trap yourself in the naive simplifications of tear-jerker romances that Greek newspapers employed in writing about the abduction. You get caught up in the mind-set of a genre that, in contrast with the unadorned folk narrative of the unspoiled provincial community, is weighed down by the sins of contemporary commercial expediency. Having confined itself to such swampy ground, it is not surprising that Galanaki’s text gets bogged down in a flood of pompous rhetorical flourishes. She calls the Hania Appeals Court of 1950 a «temple of written Greek law,» Cretan shepherds in 2004 «hierophants» and describes those who were anxious about a court ruling on the Koundocostas case as «only those old men who were sinking definitively into the deep blue seas of death and babies at the breast.» The fact that Galanaki both tried to explore the truth by means of evidence and used idealization to skirt every obstacle in the complex social, political and psychological reality of mid-20th century Greece, derails the narrative. And there was so much in this story that was suited to revealing the bitter clashes in modern Greece.