Book: A Crowded Heart by Nicholas Papandreou
Anyone who is tuned in to Greek politics in the past fifty years, has heard the name Papandreou. Son Nicholas, who started as an economist, left the “family business” to become a writer and share his short stories and poetry with the world. His novel, A Crowded Heart (1996) tells the story of a family dominant in Greek politics, but it is, the book title assures us, A Novel.
Papandreou’s love for Greece and his mixed feelings about the family dynasty as portrayed here certainly make for “a crowded heart.” A small boy sees and observes much in the small details of life.
When he was only eight years old, he was assigned to go to a small village and become the godfather at a baptism, because hundreds of requests flew in from political supporters and his father could not fill all the requests himself. When the boy is expected to make a speech he recalls his beloved grandmother telling him a story about his grandfather.
“I’m jealous of you politicians,” a poet once told my grandfather, “because you meet so many people.”
“I’m jealous of you poets,” my grandfather replied, “because you meet so many uncontrollable passions.”
The writer in the Papandreou family, Nicholas, show the poetic touch that makes you want to travel to Greecein his novel’s opening lines.
“To describe Greece I would share with you a tomato on the sandy beaches of Skopellos, open a sea urchin with my penknife and serve you the scarlet eggs inside while the salt stretches the skin on our backs…I would dry you a starfish and hang it on your wall so you could smell the salty Aegean in your room, and ask you to breathe in the aroma of osier, broom and ginger root.”
As I read that passage, images of Greece flood into my mind from my five visits there and rouses the yearning I always have to go back again.
His depiction of the devotion of the Greek people to their socialist heroes in A Crowded Heart, and the loving relationship he has with his grandparents and sister make it very hard to believe this is a novel rather than a memoir. At any rate, this book, even if it is not strictly memoir, or strictly travel literature, paints a detailed, beautiful, and culturally educational portrait of modern Greece.
Does a novelist ever escape from being a memoirist on some level?