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A cautionary tale,
This review is from: The House on Paradise Street (Paperback)
This is the second street-name book by Zinovieff and although presented as a work of fiction (where Eurydice Street was based on the author's own experiences of Greece) the two books share a common aim: to educate the British public about modern Greece (beyond the Shirley Valentine caricature). Both books do a great job when seen form this point of view and there is no doubt that Paradise Street is an excellent read.
I must confess however that I am not really characteristic of this intended audience. To me this book reads like many of the stories I grew up with, about my family and our friends. So much so, that after the first few pages I could easily recognize the actual person that has inspired the Nikitas character (and it was no surprise when I later found his name listed in the acknowledgements). This is of course testament to the authors writing skill as well as her meticulous research which is characteristic of all her work.
In any case, I am probably more critical of some of the choices that the author makes in telling her story. Firstly, despite the meticulous research, the dates simply do not add up. Nikitas, the main male character, raised in the Averoff prison during the post war period would most certainly be far too old -- by at least a decade -- to be part of the Polytechnion generation as claimed in the book. Indeed, he would likely be about 40 years older than Maude which makes the whole affair mush less believable.
More importantly, the story is centered around Athens when the vast majority of people and events associated with this period happened in smaller cities and predominantly in villages. Although of course the author is entitled to artistic freedom, in this case her choice reflects the current situation where Athens dominates Greek life but is not representative of the period and to my eyes at least less credible.
As one would expect, this second street-name book also reflects the changing relationship of Zinovieff with Greece, of which she is now presumably a citizen. The lightheartedness and general positive outlook of Eurydice Street has been replaced by a much more critical view, especially evident in the latter chapters and expressed through Maude (for example, her comments about the interpretation of the concept of freedom by modern Greeks). Again, I cannot criticize the point of view, in fact I wholeheartedly agree with these statements, but the outlook is clearly different to the previous book -- much more balanced and indeed much more accurate but also much more bitter.
I would however strongly disagree with the statement that this book has major relevance for those wishing to understand what went wrong in recent years. The events narrated in this book are only the background and certainly Britain has had a role that has rarely been acknowledged. Nevertheless, none of this preordained the destiny of this country and I would argue that it was rather the choices that Greeks made for themselves in the 60s and then again in the 80s and the 90s, that are the real cause. Suggesting otherwise does a considerable disservice to the country and its people.
This is perhaps the most notable difference between this book and the previous one: Zinovieff buys wholesale into the stereotypes and preconceptions of modern Greek society. Although this is perhaps a natural effect of naturalization, from my point of view reproducing these stereotypes serves no good purpose and indeed severely hinders the discussion of the true causes behind the Greek mess. Even more, it rationalizes certain dominant attitudes within Greek society (towards women and foreigners for example) that are simply unacceptable in a modern open and democratic country. And it is this, that I believe to be the main weakness of the book.