August 28, 2003
An Unanticipated Fresh Breeze
A short review of Justine Frangouli-Argyris' new book
By Archbishop Spyridon
Justine Frangouli-Argyris' new book Petaei, Petaei To Synnefo (Clouds Fly, Don't They?) brings an unanticipated fresh air to the world of Greek literature. The work immediately distinguishes itself for its unaffected approach to a human story which plays out in 20th century Greece on the island of Lefkada.
Through the book's pages one delves into the life and works of a simple man with common problems and experiences who lived in changing times--times that, in spite of all, continue to enchant as they are pictured in their simplicity and authenticity. Even the anguishing problem of the hero's relationship to God is presented as an existential struggle carried out on a purely inter-personal level, far from and beyond any artificial ideologies and illusive rationalistic dilemmas.
Fr Kostangelos was a man who lived in a limited region and at a specific time, within the confines of a small island and the constraints of the 20th century. Yet, the traditional values that constitute the axis of the hero's life and activity effortlessly surpass the range of his world as their perpetual and universal character lead any reader to identify with the book's believable hero.
The book runs through the entire history of modern Greece from the Balkan Wars to the political changeover of 1974, refusing to idealize the facts and registering the events in human colors and in their true dimension, precisely as the hero profoundly experienced them in his very flesh. Joy and expectation, reservation and distrust, optimism and vain hopes--all these experiences make up the rich world of Fr Kostangelos as a young soldier and later as a mature and reflective citizen.
The startling reversal of the Greek pre-war generation's values by the socio-political developments that transpired during the post-junta period puzzles Fr Kostangelos. Yet our hero, a representative of a centuries-old religious tradition of conciliation and inter-penetration, shows understanding for the differing views maintained by others--managing to reconcile within himself two diametrically opposite worlds that are the old and the new. It is perhaps the first time that in a Greek novel the passage from one era to the next unfolds without guilt, that the old generation exculpates its successor of its own syndromes through the vehicles of love and understanding.
The novel's undeniable unaffectedness, the rich language clear of eccentricity and the strength of expression keep the reader literally nailed to the text, especially those readers tired with the rationalistic and narcissistic examples prevalent in contemporary literary production.
[Translated from Greek]