Wednesday 23 September 2015

Review by Alexandros Plasatis of “Aeolia” by Ilias Venezis

Aeolia (Αιολική Γη) was first published in Greece in 1945, appeared in Britain in 1950, and came out in the States in 1957 as Beyond the Aegean.

Ten years ago I was living in Southampton, working in a factory, doing the night shifts. One morning I got back from work and found a parcel from Greece. I took it to bed with me, lit a cigarette, tore it open: there was a book inside, with a small note from the sender, a friend: ‘Venezis wrote many books, and I’ve read them all, but he had only to write Aeolia.’

I skipped the intro, began with the novel, read a bit. It was some sort of a novel in stories. It was good and I read on and found beauty on those pages. My body ached from the factory, but I made the pillow into a knot under my head and stayed with the little stories: the story of Ali the Moslem who was searching the world for the camel with the white head, of quiet Stephanos who was searching for perpetual motion, the story of the hunter with the yellow stars.

It was a boy and his sisters who met those strange characters on their grandparents’ big farm. None of them were aware of the war and the death that was coming, that very soon Greeks and Turks would kill each other once again and in 1922 ‘the waters of Smyrna would be choked in dead bodies.’ It was peaceful there, in the wooded mountains of Aeolia, Asia Minor, and the tall wall around the farm was built with azure stones and made the farm look like a welcoming castle.

The boy and his sisters saw many passing travellers who rested at the farm – ‘there were Jews, Armenians, Turks, Christians, beggars, nobles, peddlers, the sick.’ But the little ones knew when a real traveller had come:

that is, someone who had stories to tell, dressed in strange clothes, bringing with him perhaps a little madness or some peddler’s wares to stir our curiosity and imagination, spreading before us the fresh pages of the world’s destiny. Then we all ran to find the traveller, to fuss over him and give him milk and eggs; and having bribed him sufficiently, we gathered around him and waited. Then, slowly, the pages turned. They turned and revealed to us that beyond external resemblances, beyond joy and misery, there was another power, as urgent as fire, uniting the destinies of all men: the pursuit of passion, the need for suffering.
When I woke up in the evening, I called the factory and told them I was sick. I stayed in bed and finished Aeolia and felt as if I had drunk sweet red wine. The writing was simple, the sentences were sometimes long and melodious and sometimes short and rhythmic, and the man who wrote them knew how to write.

Since then I moved to other English towns and lived in many houses, and somehow and somewhere the book was lost or maybe lent and never returned, and I didn’t give it much thought. But it came back to me again, in Leicester, in the library where I happen to work now, and they say that this library has a million books. I was shelving one evening in the literature section, up on the third floor, and as I was putting a book back on the shelves, there it was, sweet little Aeolia, on the last but bottom shelf. I pulled it out and checked: translated into English by E. D. Scott-Kilvert, intro by Lawrence Durrell. I found a quiet spot in between the shelves, got a footstool and took a seat. And hidden from customers and supervisors, I began again, I read on, on and on, and, yeah, the beauty and the magic were still there.

About the reviewer
Alexandros Plasatis lives in Leicester and had short stories published in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (2012), Unthology 6 (2015), and Crystal Voices: Ten Years of Crystal Clear Creators (2015).

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