Lilika Nakos Essay - Critical Essays

Nakos, Lilika


Lilika Nakos 1899?–

(Born Ioulia Nakos; also transliterated as Nakou) Greek novelist, journalist, memoirist, and short story writer.

Nakos's fiction is known for its use of demotic Modern Greek and for its introduction into Greek literature of women's viewpoints and social issues, subjects previously considered unsuitable for a Greek writer. Nakos's short story collection I kolasi ton paidion (1944; The Children's Inferno) is her only work readily available in English. Based on her experiences as a nurse during the German occupation of Greece, the book was smuggled into Switzerland and is considered responsible for the aid sent to Greece by the International Red Cross. Many of the works for which Nakos is praised are candid and sensitive treatments of mother and daughter relationships.

The New Yorker

[The Children's Inferno is a] collection of stories, apparently with a factual background, about the occupation of Athens. It might be described as the White Book of the Greek children…. [The] majority of these stories center on the children's ward of … [the hospital where Nakos served as a nurse]. Most of them, especially those dealing with children forced by circumstance into depravity and crime, are harrowing, but Miss Nakos's literary skill, compassion, and faith in her people have made her book much more than a mere chronicle of horror.

A review of "The Children's Inferno," in The New Yorker (© 1946, renewed 1973, by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXII, No. 39, November 9, 1946, p. 126.

Stephen Stepanchev

There are pictures [in The Children's Inferno] of pale, ragged children falling of hunger in the shadow of the Acropolis, of children walking about armless as a result of beastly tortures, of children living in filthy, vermin-infested caves where they plan robberies and assaults on the better-fed citizenry, of children bewildered and weeping, looking for affection wherever they can find it. The plight of these youngsters is always played against their hopes and dreams. One boy lives by a mouth organ that reminds him of a kindly godfather; another is fond of a mangy dog that follows him everywhere and licks his running sores; still another loves a cat so intensely that he develops a fever when he learns that it has been killed and eaten. One child is devoted to a lost Englishman, another to an Italian soldier who smiles. All of them dream of better times to come, usually in heaven.

From these stories one gets an overwhelming sense of the despair and misery that must have been the lot of the average Athenian during the war. In their particularities these pieces are as raw and real as documentary photographs. For that very reason, however, they are unsuccessful as short stories. They bear too close a relationship to Miss Nakos's observed expe-rience; the reality has not been transmuted by a selective, universalizing imagination. The best of the stories is the one called "The Madwoman," in which, with admirable detachment, Miss Nakos tells of the effects of a woman's insanity on her husband and little girl.

Stephen Stepanchev, "Bitter Truth," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, December 1, 1946, p. 40.

Deborah Tannen

[Nakos' fiction] was pioneering in two major ways. First, Nakos wrote in a startlingly simple, nearly conversational yet lyrical demotic language. Second, her work depicts the intimate experiences and emotions of women. The critic Pericles Rodakis asserts that every woman writing in Greece today is influenced by her style. It would be more correct to say that every person writing in Greece is influenced, for the demotic language has become the only literary vehicle, and explicit treatment of personal experience is now commonplace in Greek as in other European literature. (pp. 206-07)

[Nakos'] novels, especially the later ones, are at the same time social documents and romantic visions. They expose the hardships of the oppressed: workers, children, and women, but they nevertheless end with optimistic affirmations of hope that life will improve. Nakos' early stories, however, depict a bleak and piercing view of a vast gulf between child protagonists and upper-class parents who are portrayed as frivolous, superficial, and utterly insensitive to their children. This vision of childhood corresponds to the way Nakos characterizes her own early years…. She says however that she loved her mother when she grew up, for indeed a great bond grew between them in Geneva and when they lived together as two adults in Athens.

The relationships between mothers and daughters in Nakos' work reflect this pattern: the portrayal of mothers is negative in the early work but becomes increasingly sympathetic in the later novels.

Nakos' early stories are about girls who hate their mothers. For example "Photini" … is about an upper-class child who feels totally isolated in "the ancient house with its vast rooms in the old section of Athens—this house where she can never find a corner of refuge, a single quiet corner where she cannot hear her parents' shouts and quarrels." Photini hates both her parents: "And the child folds into herself and suffers from feeling so different from them." However, her negative feelings are strongest toward her mother: "One of the most intolerable torments for Photini is to sleep in the same room as her mother…. To always feel her presence."

One night Photini's parents return home late and tiptoe into the room…. [They have sexual intercourse in the bed next to Photini's.] Helpless with shame and rage, Photini later has a vision of "herself, her hair in disarray, bent over her mother's body, a knife in her hand. There was blood on the blanket." Recollection, hallucination, or nightmare, the vision gives form to her murderous impulses toward her mother who, as the father's sexual partner, acts out urges which are unthinkable for the little girl. This very early story sets a pattern which is recapitulated in other Nakos stories and in her first novel: a girl's inability to accept sexuality becomes focused in revulsion against her mother.

The image of a mother as her daughter's enemy is most apparent in another early French story, "And the Child Lied," which was reprinted in Greek along with Nakos' first novella. If Photini kills her mother in her mind, the mother in "And the Child Lied" kills her daughter, not literally, but practically; she sends her to a monastery. (pp. 207-09)

Another story which associates a mother with a girl's negative attitude toward sexuality is "The Nameless One." Marina does not want her ailing mother to die, but she remarks, "At bottom I didn't care that much." Marina is introduced to sexual awareness through a double trauma linking sex with disaster, with her mother as a negative role model. (p. 210)

Nakos' first novella, Le Livre de Mon Pierrot (1928), published in Greek as The Deflowered One (1932), was hailed as "a new beginning for our literature." One of the first social novels in Greek, it attributes the familiar...

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Deborah Tannen

Nakos's approach to literature is pragmatic; she believes that it should enlighten and give hope to its readers. Thus her novels can be seen as social documents, exposing the hardships of working people, of exploited children, and of women. Moreover, certain of her works were written with specific social purposes. Her collection of stories, The Children's Hell [also published as The Children's Inferno], alerted the world to the great famine in Athens during the German Occupation of World War II, and Toward a New Life exposes the abuses of the Metaxas dictatorship in Greece which immediately predated that war. Yet all her novels, while accurately portraying difficult, even wretched, social...

(The entire section is 944 words.)