A CROWDED HEART by Nicholas Papandreou


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Composed of a series of childhood recollections, fictional only in the change of names, this first novel by the California-born son of former Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou tells the story of a young man from California whose family returns to Greece, where his father pursues a career in politics. The real subject here is the love-hate relationship of the little American boy transplanted to a culture he doesn’t know and is unwilling to accept. The Greeks, as he learns, can be primitive and cruel. He is offended when his young playmates kill birds with their slingshots. In the concluding chapter, “My Father Dancing,” the 15-year-old comes downstairs to turn off the Greek phonograph music to which his father is dancing among a gathering of guests. This is, as he knows, no ordinary gesture of rebelliousness but an act of disloyalty and unthinkable rudeness: and, unable to dare a complete break with his father, he turns the phonograph on again. The narrator admits that he was a confused and angry young man in large part because “the world of my childhood was a world of crowds, of speeches and cavalcades, of applause and adulation.— This childhood creates a dramatically conflicted and deep-rooted syndrome of feelings in the older person: —I grew up inside these crowds. Sometimes I think they are my real parents. I love them. I want them to shrivel up and die. I want them to leave me alone. I want them to forgive me and praise me, make me great and make me humble.” Writing this book may well have been an act of contrition for a young man’s resentment of his father, and for a mean-spiritedness toward a parent who now, in adulthood, creates a greater complexity of feeling. Writing from a motive such as this can often be salutary for the composer, but only rarely does it make for great art. Unfortunately, Papandreou’s case proves no exception.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18685-1
Page count: 177pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998