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Yannis Makridakis. I Dexia Tsepi tou Rassou: Nouvela.

Yannis Makridakis. I Dexia Tsepi tou Rassou: Nouvela. Athens. Estia. 2009. 143 pages. 13 [euro]. ISBN 978-9600-51413-1

This slim novella establishes even further Yannis Makridakis's talent for quirky yet realistic regionalism that surprised readers pleasantly in his first novel, Anamisis denekes (2008; One-and-a-half tin can). Although the subject of I Dexia Tsepi tou Rassou: Nouvela (The right pocket of the cassock: A novella) is drawn from items of Hellenic interest, and true ones at that--the death of the head of the Greek Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, on January 28, 2008, and the subsequent election of Archbishop Hieronymos as his successor--Makridakis's plot device of setting the action away from the "real" world and in the timelessness of an old island monastery, abandoned by all but a hermit monk and his dog, bares the allegorical and satirical substratum of his tale to a universal understanding.

While believers mourn their popular archbishop, and public interest is drawn to the clandestine ecclesiastical battles among potential successors and their supporters, the innocent monk Vicentius--a bittersweet parody of a Good Shepherd, as he no longer has a flock to guide, and terribly alone and in need of guidance himself--mourns much more truly for the loss of his only companion, his little female dog, and agonizes over the survival of its only remaining newborn puppy, ironically referred to by the author as the "successor" until the last chapter, when we understand that the monk has named the survivor puppy "Rony," a short version of "Hieronymos." Vicentius's disavowal of public joys and honors, his struggle with, and strength of, faith, his asceticism and his genuine love for the animal, his struggle to give the mother a decent burial and to keep the heir alive, and his simple but true relations with the occasional pilgrim contrast eloquently with the fancy media show that the burial becomes, the sideline haggling and scheming of the church leaders for power, and their spiritual distance from their flock. It is characteristic that their presence is mostly projected through the media, not directly.

In a stroke of genius, Makridakis does not make his satire overt: the meekness and kindness of the monk and the love expressed for the Church and its representatives by the visitors are overwhelming and indisputable, thus leading the worldly reader to draw her own conclusions by juxtaposition. The novella can also be read as a teleological allegory, examining the question of the origin of faith in the human need to relate, and the paradoxical affirmation of the power of life and religiousness despite, or rather because of, the failings of its earthly politics. There is an unhurried, careful crafting of the hermit's world, his agony of loneliness, his triumph of faith, and the way the sparseness of his surroundings contrasts with the wealth and warmth of emotions among living creatures, elements that imperceptibly draw the reader toward this reluctant protagonist and leaves her with a warm feeling at the end.

Christina Dokou

University of Athens, Greece
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Author:Dokou, Christina
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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