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Turbulent Greek history. 'Niki' by Christos Chomenidis is a captivating family chronicle

In his award-winning novel Niki Greek writer Christos Chomenidis tells the turbulent story of his mother and her family. But above all, he tells the reader about 30 years of troubled Greek history.

Family chronicle

With the fascinating family chronicle Niki, awarded the Prix du Livre Européen two years ago, Greek writer Christos Chomenidis (1966) tells two histories: that of his mother Niki and her parents and that of three turbulent decades in Greece, from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Although based on autobiographical material, the very novel form offered Chomenidis the freedom to tell this epic from an unusual perspective: that of a dead person. For it is Niki who acts as narrator, just after her death. Lying in her coffin, she returns to the origins of her existence.

Niki's father, Andonis Armaou, is gripped by communism as a young man. Soon he climbs to the top of the Party and kicks off as a member of parliament. But at the same time, National Socialism - and Nazism - is gaining momentum.

The fault line that is emerging in Greek politics and society also occurs within the Armaou family: while Andonis and two of his brothers have to seriously regret their political ideas and actions, their sisters Faní and Markella marry top men who support the regime of the German occupiers. It is beautiful how Chomenidis shows how the family members deal with this tornness and do their best to put affection and family ties ahead of politics.

Hope for better times

The price that Andonis, his wife Anna pay for their views is great, and so are their little daughter Niki. Andonis is expelled from the Party for unclear reasons, and thus he and his family are outlaws. The hunt for communists and partisans during and after World War II forces them to live in hiding for years. As the Greek civil war rages outside, claiming nearly 160,000 victims, they cling to the hope of better times.

It is only halfway through the book that Niki actually becomes a protagonist, when she grows from a teenager trapped in a life as a result of choices that are not her own, into a bright young woman who, like her parents once did, dares to make an important life choice. A vision - which connects the young Niki in a special way with the elderly Niki who died - gives her the courage to follow her heart.

Actually, the novel ends when Niki's life really begins, and as a reader you just start to feel connected to her. That makes Niki into an interesting but also somewhat unbalanced novel.

Christos Chomenidis, Niki (416 p.)
Translated from the Greek by Hero Holwerda
Prometheus, €25.00

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A Quattro Mani

Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

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