All that makes the novel sound unrelentingly somber, and it's not. The family that Bakopoulos creates is smart and engaged in their time, but they are also very real people involved in the loves, disappointments, and laughter that surround us all. And then they also have their uncle, Mihalis, one of the most engaging characters I've come across in any recent novel. Mihalis is a poet, part philosopher and part clown. His family, including his wife, have no expectation that he would actually make a living; he is, after all, a poet! He shifts between disappearing into silent despondency, walking through the streets of Athens to talk with his friends in various cafes, and shouting "Resist" in public parks. The regime can ignore him or imprison him, and they do both.
Bakopoulos uses the historical moment to keep the pace of her novel clipping along through the seven years of the dictatorship, but she is particularly good near the end, when she writes about the military assault on the Polytechnical University. This is a famous moment in recent Greek history, where the students put their bodies in front of the tanks, but it is little remembered elsewhere in the world: "For years they had tolerated this, and then, suddenly, it was no longer tolerable. It was that simple. A switch thrown." It was November 17, 1973, the beginning of the end of the junta, and the return to life for Eleni, her children and her brother, the poet.
Natalie Bakopoulos reads from and discusses The Green Shore at Nicola's on June 5.
[Originally published in June, 2012.]