Giorgos Ioannou was born in Thessaloniki in 1927. He was the first-born in a financially destroyed, refugee family. He grew up and studied in his homeland under difficult circumstances. He got his degree in literature from the Aristotelian University and in 1960 he was appointed as a teacher of Greek to the secondary education and served in various places (Kinuria, Veggazi, Kalamaria). In 1971 he was transferred to Athens, initially in a high school and afterwards in the ministry of Education, where he remained for the rest of his life.
He first appeared in the literary world in 1954 with a small poetic collection, the
“Sunflowers”, while a second one followed in 1963. Since then he devoted himself to prose writing, through which he got his recognition as a man of letters. At the same time, he translated ancient texts, he published popular songs’ collections, fairy tales, karagiozi, plays, chronicles and studies. In 1979 he was honored with the First Short Story’s Governmental Prize for his book
“Our own blood”.
His work is peculiar as well as solitary; it is, however, a new link in the Modern Greek prose tradition of the best quality. His texts could be categorized, in terms of form, into literary texts, chronicles (historical events), articles about current events, essays and variants. We will indulge in his literary texts, in particular the following:
“the only Heritage”, and
“the Epitaph Lamentation”.
The writer’s life was very much influenced by the years of War, Occupation, Resistance and Civil War, and the way he experienced them in Thessaloniki, where he grew up. Gifted with extraordinary sensitivity and being very observing, he got to know the tragedy of refugees, the uprooting of Jews and his fellow-citizens’ in general, during that period of the crisis. The greatest part of his work composes a wall painting – a mosaic of Thessaloniki and its people, seen from his own point of view.
Thessaloniki is revealed wonderfully. In this magnet of the dispersed Greek nations, in this sample of all epochs of Greece from the roman possession until today, Giorgos Ioannou manages to show us occasionally, sometimes a complete mosaic and other times, its constitutive pieces, one by one. The writer, a true-born man of Thessaloniki, a man who understands, who talks only when he has a reason to do so, and remains silent when he has to listen and look, who recognizes, who is moved and thinks, wanders from the slaughterhouses and the immense deserted places and popular taverns, to the old railway station with the declined cafes and the inactive wagons, to the suspicious Bara and Ramona, the picturesque and miserable Old Town, the vast and unshaped square of the Courts, the dilapidated Byzantine temples, the suspicious hotels of Egnatia street, the narrow blocks of flats, the colourless central streets, the moldy offices, the university, the popular, dirty cinemas and the atmosphere of the social life.
All these compose a varying as well as painful atmosphere, whilst we consider the destiny of modern human beings, watching this slaughter of feelings and intentions, watching the individual, struck by fate, fighting to stand on his/her feet. On the other hand he often doesn’t forget to trace and present the hilarious aspects of various dramatic situations.
His prose is not transformed into poetic prose, on the contrary, many times we are under the impression that he comments on poetry "I wish I locked myself in a small narrow room, where I wouldn’t look nor would I listen to anything. In there I might manage to apologize right in time, with every detail, so as to be cured. There is no other medicine than confession. Maybe that’s why I am so confused and I do not know what to do. I used to believe that, if I spoke, the sky would fall and crash me down. I was twenty years old then and when I was twenty, it did not make any difference to become twenty-one, it was rather better because I became a soldier. I was panicked after thirty, and now I do not know where to hang on from".
We deal with a man who is thirsty to talk simply and truly “I do not know if those things that I consider do promote the human affair or not. It’s not of course that I am not interested in this. The first thing I try for is to speak with honesty, or rather with piety. I am thirsty for confession, that somehow always relieves". However, panic is always like electricity that strikes him: "Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed by such fears, I start shivering, when I realise that somebody is walking on my steps, and stops at the same places. I cannot stop having bad thoughts, as I come from the time of murderers".
He constantly uses the first person; his style is naked, without trying to elaborate needlessly, while making hard efforts to find the true essence of things: he is not a narcissist, nor a grandiloquent, nor does he tell lies. The author needs to be very sincere in order not to fear the commonplace expressions and words, the simple conversation – however, it wouldn’t be difficult for an experienced reader to detect a man who fought with words for years, serving poetry, and not just a novelist with a plain style. Moreover, as far as these texts are concerned, beautiful words as such appear to be a totally unnecessary luxury. What do brilliant costumes serve in bodies that aren't afraid to reveal their vigorous nakedness?
Ioannou’s prose is not in danger of becoming part of a private diary indifferent to the audience, or being transformed into dry exercises. He goes even deeper, his thought is not limited within cold formulas, and he lets individual aspects become part of a global experience. Behind the private affair of a man who describes his experiences from Thessaloniki, the Greek province and Africa, there is the general human dead end, crystallized in some, often perfect, forms of prose. And behind this perseverance and recollection of the same person, the tragic era of murderers still exists.
The Postwar Prose, volume C
Pan. Moullas, About our Postwar prose
Tolis Kazantzis, Diagonal, Thessaloniki, 1965.