A series of comic vignettes plumbs the cultural condition of contemporary Greece.
Economically embattled, Greece is typically portrayed as a nation of hapless victims or adolescent derelicts. Debut author Paradias assembles a series of character portraits of the troubled modern nation with an ancient past that transcends that binary narrative. The political and fiscal dysfunction of the country is either a symptom or catalyst of extraordinary eccentricity; the author builds his short remembrances around colorfully quirky types. For example, Mister Shiftless solicited help building a special “orgone accumulator”—essentially a box filled with semiprecious stones—that he believed would cure his cancer after he’d masturbated within it. Mister Crawley was a devoted father and a disciple of Satan. Shady Senior tried to sell Paradias a house riddled with bullet holes. Sgt. Cynic casually explained how to navigate the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the Greek military. Father Woe was a priest his whole adult life, an experience that left him an atheist. The author also discusses some peculiar cultural aspects of Greek life, including its ambivalence about sexual education, its relationship with superstition and sorcery, and the way marketing pamphlets promising a better life express a paradoxical combination of popular discontent and resilient hopefulness. Paradias doesn’t try to provide much by way of concrete political analysis or policy recommendations—he does briefly lament the proliferation of leftists in government and the unwieldy size of the public sector. But this study is meant as a portal into the Greek ethos itself, not a white paper on its macroeconomic floundering. Paradias’ tableaux are consistently offbeat and often very funny, even more so if the stories are free of artistic embellishment, as he insists they are. Sometimes he fails to clearly draw the connection between the outlandish behavior and Greek society—surely other nations are whimsically kooky as well. Overall, though, he provides a welcome counterpoint to an increasingly stale debate about the future of Greece. The author’s final appraisal isn’t bleak—Greece has suffered much in its long history and has survived—but it isn’t cheery either: “Nothing too fundamental is going to change. Every single thing written in this book, all the aching and the weirdness and the sex and the death, they’re going to still be around, reminding us of our humanity.”
A thoughtful and amusing look at a troubled nation’s soul.