The Unwanted Dead by Yorgos Pratanos

Set in Germany and Greece in 1957, the story of Nikos Kazantzakis is told through the eyes of an ambitious young reporter Freddie Germanos, who is collecting information on the great man’s life, and the reminiscences of his wife Helen and her friend Agnes. Poet, novelist, essayist, philosopher, playwright, journalist – Kazantzakis is perhaps best known for writing Zorba which was later made into a movie.

Greece has vilified him and denied his greatness. Nor has his native Crete honoured its most famous citizen. The Church has attempted to excommunicate him. He has been nominated 9 times for a Nobel Award, but his enemies and critics, including Queen Frederika have thwarted him. He has been persecuted and disparaged in his own country for his socialism and questioning of Christian beliefs, while being widely admired in the English speaking world.

The story focusses on Helen and her friends’ struggle to find a worthy burial place for the great man on the island of his birth. Their efforts are hampered by malicious members of the Church, both the hierarchy and the lower orders as well as the government. The book is not a compelling read but it is interesting to learn about the struggle of a grieving widow to overcome the prejudice of those who would like see her beloved husband relegated to the mists of obscurity, and give him the funeral he deserves.

****  

The Carpet Weaver of Usak by Kathryn Gauci

Great story well told

There are two villages in Anatolia. Pinarbaşi is Turkish, Stravrodromi is Greek. The only thing that divides them is a road. Their people live together in complete harmony. In reading about the relationship between the two villages, I got a sense that the march of time had left them behind. Mention of a caravanserai, camel trains, goat-herders, and the excitement produced in the women by a chiming clock, all suggest a simple people living simple lives according to a simple ethic: Help your neighbours; they are your family. They could as easily (apart from the clock) belong to biblical times.

The lifeblood of the two villages is the carpet weaving industry. Aspasia, a gentle, curious woman weaves exquisite carpets. Her husband Christophoros, a proud, hardworking and generous man works in Uşak for a carpet company. They are an adoring couple, whose language is spiced with tender endearments. They long for a child.

Then a bullet fired in faraway Sarajevo changes everything. In the villages, no one knows where Sarajevo is or who Archduke Franz-Ferdinand is or why war has been declared. The young men are summoned to fight, the Ottomans side with Germany and Austria, the Greeks with Russia and the allies. They march away and many are never heard from again. The war also impacts the carpet industry as the women are called upon to turn their skills to making blankets. Production is reduced but even so, carpets stockpile. After the war, further hardship for the two villages begins, testing friendships in the struggle for survival.

There is great depth to this book. The author invites us to look at our lives with all our sophisticated toys and gadgets and ask if we are any happier than women who thrilled at the chiming of a clock. The horrors of war, the ruin and devastation it brings to ordinary people, is juxtaposed by the birth of a child and the hope it brings; and also with a delightful description of Anatolia in spring

In keeping with the characters, the writing is simple and concise, with no dramatic flourishes or superfluity. I expected to enjoy this book and I did. It’s a story of love, friendship, courage, loss and war, superbly told, set during an epic and tragic event I suspect few know about. I didn’t. I have no faults to pick except that there were a few grammatical errors or typos.

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