THE MERMAID MADONNA by Stratis Myrivilis


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Shortly after World War I a group of extremely simple, proud, and religious people, driven by the Turks from their native Anatolia, arrives on the island of Skala, in the Aegean Sea. At first, ""because their hearts cannot tolerate their betrayal of Greece in Asia Minor"", the refugees are suspicious of the hospitality offered by the islanders, but the antagonisms gradually subside, and the Anatolians, erecting crude homes on the coast of the adopted island around the chapel of the Mermaid Madonna, resume their tradition-bound way of life. At the center of this saga of a people is Smaragthi, a green-eyed, golden haired child who is mysteriously discovered by Varouhos in a basket of fishlines aboard his boat. As a young woman, Smaragthi loses her ""parents"", Varouhos and his wife Nerandji who adopted and cherished the foundling, and she becomes an expert fisherman. Because of her vitality and beauty, the young Anatolian men are magnetically drawn to Smaragthi; she is irrevocably tied to the sea and a sense of freedom, and, as tragedy befalls so many of those who love her, she, in her strange dedication, becomes almost a part of the ancient legends that have been told about the Mermaid Madonna. Translated from the Greek by Abbott Rick, the poetic prose has very little dialogue. Excepting the fully depicted Smaragthi, Myrivilis' characters are not so much individual people as they are giant figures in a vividly colored, moving pageant. In their acceptance of sorrow as part of the richness in their lives, these Anatolians are reminiscent of Singe's characters in Riders to the Sea, and the author captures the same beautiful intensity of peasant fishermen. Written in a very distinctive, forceful, and ""old- world"" style, this book is an unusually beautiful experience for the sensitive reader.

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1959
Publisher: Crowell