Vassilis Vassilikos is not well-known in North America, nor is his novel The Few Things I Know About Glafkos Thrassakis, which is making its initial appearance in English long after its original publication in the 1970’s, and with several later revisions. The “I” of the title is an unnamed narrator, who is preparing a critical biography of the late writer Glafkos Thrassakis but who finds himself baffled by contradictory information about his subject. His book in progress, The Collected Discovered Works of Glafkos Thrassakis, will span the forty-five years of Glafkos’s life, which include the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II; the subsequent civil war that divided the country; the military dictatorship that seized power in 1967, driving out leftist sympathizers; and Glafkos’s return from exile after its collapse. Inasmuch as the biographer-narrator admits he is no fan of chronological biographies, his text shifts and rambles, imitating “the life of my subject, in all his fragmentariness and self-contradiction.” In addition to the biographer’s running commentary, Vassilikos’s quirky novel is composed of scraps of Glafkos’s life; italicized excerpts from his stories, poems, and journals; and a recipe for vassilopita.
Confusion begins almost immediately with the characters’ names. Glafkos Thrassakis is the writer’s pen name, but he is also referred to by his real name, Lazarus Lazaridis, and his childhood nickname, Lazos. In mid-novel his wife, Mrs. Lazaridis (who has rejected her husband’s pseudonym), suddenly becomes Glafka, although that does not appear to be her true name. Both the biographer and his wife remain anonymous, although they have a daughter named Anna.
Vassilikos slyly suggests (twice) that a writer might choose to disguise himself by taking on a persona, or double, in order to comment more freely. Here the double doubling can make one dizzy. Lines routinely blur between Vassilikos, his character Glafkos-Lazos, and the narrator-biographer, who admits that he is fascinated by the concept of the double. Interestingly enough, his wife plans a parallel study of Glafkos’s wife. (As a side note, both the biographer and Vassilikos are unable to step back from their writing; both revise compulsively.) Glafkos, likewise, is identified with his own creation. Analyzing Glafkos’s stories, which often imitate his life (and that of Vassilikos), the biographer notes that Glafkos’s character is typically the author in disguise but that a reader can easily become confused. Which is the reality, which is the story?
The narrator seems a rather dry and dusty sort (“If I had an imagination I’d have become a novelist, not a biographer”), especially when he critiques Glafkos’s writing. As he becomes more deeply involved, he loses any pretense of objectivity and gradually unravels until he can no longer distinguish his own life from his subject’s. His psychological identification with Glafkos is intensified by his wife’s corresponding research on Glafka, but he is, to some extent, reassured of his identity by the fact that he has a daughter, whereas Glafkos had none.
Initially the narrator proposes a study of Glafkos’s work in the European Common Market. Through the influence of a Danish countess who once was passionately in love with Glafkos, he is granted a fellowship to support his research. When he later returns to ask for more money, he is forced to reject her advances (she thinks he resembles Glafkos), and she promptly cancels his stipend. The biographer then applies for, and receives, a fellowship from the Tiger Club, a fraternal order based in the United States. There he hopes to examine Glafkos’s unpublished papers, which were donated to a Massachusetts university. Unfortunately, he cannot obtain all the information he seeks because the writer’s papers, stored in three Brazilian coffee sacks, must remain sealed until 2003.
The luckless biographer investigates one apparent fact after another, finding only multiple and conflicting versions of truth. With regard to Glafkos, two crucial facts remain ambiguous: his birthplace and the...
(The entire section is 1704 words.)