Vassilis Vassilikos Essay - Critical Essays

Vassilikos, Vassilis (Vol. 4)

Vassilikos, Vassilis 1933–

Vassilikos is a Greek novelist, playwright, and screenwriter best known for the novel Z.

Most Left-of-center novelists, following in the Marxist tradition, get tangled in their message, producing caricatures and losing sight of artistic goals. Vassilikos almost always remembers that he is first of all a novelist. He accepts experimental techniques as compatible with his didactic purpose and as by no means an intrusion of form into content. Obviously [he is] well-read in the European new novel….

Robert J. Clements, "Prefiguring the Coup," in Saturday Review/World (copyright © 1968 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), November 16, 1968, p. 51.

In [Z,] his only book available here since "The Plant, The Well, The Angel,"… Vassilis Vassilikos … demonstrates new and considerable storytelling and lyric powers. Designing a pattern as gracefully complex as an oriental carpet, he weaves fact with poetic fantasy, produces a texture peopled with dozens of characters, and knots them tightly one to the next….

Transcending the grisly tale is its poetry. Images ripple, cascade, flood through every page. Other-worldly spirits, voices from the dead, great birds with human souls, all harking back to Olympian deities of old, hover in the murky air, wail for persecuted man, now and again swoop down to caress him. At times, these lyric flights rampage into a deluge of verbiage. (Shades of Thomas Wolfe in a Hellenic idiom!) But Vassilikos's gifts are dazzling, and these excesses of the imagination are also his book's chief beauty.

Albert J. Zuckerman, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 17, 1968, p. 81.

In his … novel, The Photographs, Vassilikos has chosen the title for its symbolic resonance: literally 'writing with light'. The author means, presumably, that he is trying to cast light into dark corners of his native country. The city in the novel, Necropolis, the same as in Z is, of course, the city of the dead. The deadness is due to the passive conformity of its people….

The Photographs … is a kind of surrealist dream or, at times, nightmare that makes reality more acceptable than if the author had used a more traditional 'naturalistic' method. In this way, too, he conveys more effectively the poetic nature of his hero. Naturally, for a Greek expatriate writer, politics can never be far away….

Vassilikos wants to make the point surely that man chooses his own destiny; he is not at the mercy of outside forces, the sport of the gods or a Hardyesque President of the Immortals. The death-wish is inside each one of us—Freud turned to the Greek in naming it 'Thanatos'—but a man can choose not to yield to it and opt instead for life and freedom. By saying that 'nothing can happen in Necropolis' Vassilikos is insisting that no creativity is possible where men are not free to express themselves as they wish. There is an insistence, too, on the necessity to choose the freedom and pain of exile rather than be stifled as an artist. No doubt he has felt the need to justify his own position.

The Photographs is a novel that works on various levels and is therefore open to various interpretations. Its terms of reference are both public and private. Yet it cannot be dismissed as merely another propagandist effort since the 'message' is so subtle and so ably woven into the total structure.

Robert Greacen, in Books and Bookmen, December, 1971, pp. 64, 66.

The Photographs is a novel in which the main emphases are verbal, structural and thematic. Vassilis Vassilikos is too competent a novelist to let the lavish application of "technique" completely suffocate the human lack which is expressed by his story….

This potentially interesting theme is vitiated by the iambic prose reverie which the translation offers us at so many points. It may sound like poetry in Greek; in English the banality of the prose rhythm merely emphasizes the whimsicality of so many of Mr. Vassilikos's inventions, and distorts the seriousness of the book's subject, the perennially interesting relations between life and art, illusion and reality, man and woman.

"Fidgeting," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), December 17, 1971, p. 1568.

Since 1967 in Paris as an exile from his native land, Vassilikos has published seven books and has been considered a promising modern Greek writer who gracefully balances the imagery of film and light as seen internally and externally and the inner landscape of the mind with the scenery of Greece.

John E. Rexine, in Books Abroad, Autumn, 1972, Vol. 46, No. 4, pp. 721-22.

Vassilis Vassilikos' earlier novel "Z" was based on the murder of the Greek Socialist deputy Lambrakis in Salonika before the advent of the regime of the colonels in 1967. Its strength was based on a shrewd understanding of the dynamics of cold-blooded behind-the-scenes political manipulation. At the end of that book, the fates of those involved in the affair are told: evil was handsomely rewarded and ordinary decency carried a heavy price.

One price can be exile, a Greek solution to political questions since the time of Cleisthenes. Vassilikos himself, since "Z" was banned by the present Government, has lived in exile from his own country, and exile is the subject of "The Harpoon Gun."

It consists of two novels and 13 stories. After a section of bafflingly little interest, which woodenly recounts the kidnapping of an American officer by anti-Government Greeks bent on obtaining the release of political prisoners through an exchange, Vassilikos presents us with a gallery of exiles—sketches of their lives abroad….

Granted the unifying theme, these sections have little else to do with each other in the ordinary sense; one has to strain the symbolic imagination to make connections of a sort. This might be all right if that unifying theme were systematically developed. But it scarcely gains in velocity as the book proceeds; the constant jumping from one anecdotal situation to another begins to suggest that Vassilikos may be a rather fickle lover of his characters….

[Along] with satire …, Vassilikos sometimes achieves a simple and convincing poignancy. In "Sarandapikhou Street," an exile has traveled from Belgium to Paris for one evening; in his homesickness he has gone to such lengths just to see a program of Greek documentary films made by young directors before the time of the colonels. Suddenly "the camera came to rest on what used to be his own balcony with its pots of basil and jasmine. He could see his own initials on the sheet hung out to air."

Peter Sourian, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 6, 1973, p. 39.

The nineteen selections [in Le fusil-harpon et autres nouvelles, "The Harpoon Gun and Other Stories"] are not "short stories" strictly speaking, but open-ended "pieces," with elements akin to new journalism, tape transcriptions, cinéma-vérité, and the like. Two major pieces frame a group of seventeen others, much shorter and sometimes loosely connected by the presence of a book salesman who, like an ambulatory recorder, travels in Western European circles of Greek exiles, émigrés and workers. Vassilikos focuses on the Resistance at home and especially abroad, through individuals shown in a painfully realistic, very objective (warts and all) fashion: they are nostalgic, helpless, powerless, pathetic, tragic, flawed, sincere, opportunistic, ineffectual, yet not crushed….

[The] tone in Le fusil-harpon is low-key, with no grand gestures, speeches or acts. Anger is present of course, but controlled, contained and suffused by … sadness….

[Anxiety], the self-torture of memories and psychological violence are the focal points, not explicit physical violence…. The book is not entertainment or a stylistic exercise—in fact it sags occasionally when the author indulges in "literature." It is essentially a treatise on sociopolitical conditions, but of such a specifically Greek nature that allusions, references and "personnages à clé" will be fully appreciated only by those readers who are familiar with the particulars and who are able to become involved in the protracted dialectics of the Resistance.

Edwin Jahiel, in Books Abroad, Spring, 1974, Vol. 48, No. 2, p. 409.