The History of a Vendetta
A vendetta begins and ends with a murder. A raw yet ritualised mechanism of justice that took root wherever the rule of law was absent or weak and persisted from antiquity right up until the modern era. For Yatromanokis it becomes a mechanism with which to explore a transitional period in Greek history that polarised the nation for the best part of a century.
The novel is set in Crete, in the space between the two world wars where, under the influence of Greece’s arch-reformer Eleftherios Venizelos, the country was undergoing a chaotic modernisation. It is told from the point of view of Grigoris, the lame and rather simple son of the murderer Dikeos and victim of the inevitable reprisal from the family of the murdered Zervos.
The motivations for the killing are slowly unravelled in a non-linear fashion. Grigoris’ life is not only flashing before his eyes, giving him freedom over time, but in response to his disability he has trained his mind to move freely where his body cannot. Through fragmented recollections we begin to trace the divergent paths of the murderer and the murdered; from shared beginnings as volunteers in Venizelos’ civil guard we see how Zervos was able to take advantage of the nascent capitalism and how Dikeos was to suffer from it.
Translator Helen Cavanagh has done a superb job in rendering the novel’s detached, almost forensic style. The careful depiction of events and its frequent forays into cultural, historical and even scientific wisdom evokes Herodotus. Coupled with Grigoris’ freedom of space and time we have a narrative that is at once grounded and otherworldly. One might struggle to gain traction at first but once you do its possibilities become apparent.
Grigoris’ simplicity has also liberated him from perspective and context. Folk tales are afforded the same importance as theories on capital, the activities of people are considered with the same attention and weight as the activities of Zervos’ silkworms. This throws up beautiful, almost kaleidoscopic patterns of interconnectivity. With unassuming materials it conjures a staggering depth.
Although the sweep of Modern Greek history is central to the novel, and a short timeline is included at the rear of the book; such is Yatromanolakis’ achievement here that no real knowledge is required to appreciate it. He has created an accessible, tangible world and its themes are deftly elevated to universality. This is a remarkable little book, authentically earthly and astonishingly ambitious.