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Journal of Modern Greek Studies 18.2 (2000) 456-457

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Book Review

A Prisoner of War's Story

Stratis Doukas, A Prisoner of War's Story. Translated by Petro Alexiou with an introduction by Dimitris Tziovas. Birmingham: Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham. 1999. Pp. v + 58. £8.

No one in Modern Greek Studies today can underestimate the value and necessity of good translations. The University of Birmingham has contributed to meeting this need by focusing on what it considers to be important authors in its series Modern Greek Translations, which began in 1995 with Dimitris Hatzis's The End of Our Small Town and continued with Haris Vlavianos's Adieu in 1998. The third in the series, Doukas's A Prisoner of War's Story is the gripping tale of a soldier left behind after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. First printed in 1929, the book has had a remarkable publishing history and, as Tziovas suggests in his introduction, has come to be "one of the most widely-read stories in Greece" (ix).

The narrative recounts the brutal experiences of Nikolas Kozakoglou, who is captured by the Turkish Army after the disaster and made to march for days with little food or water. On the march the Turkish soldiers mistreat the prisoners, strip them of all valuables, and leave the stragglers to the mercy of vengeful civilians. Eventually the prisoners are separated and given to local villages as slave labor. Kozakoglou and a companion escape, returning to their home village only to find it pillaged and destroyed. Disguising themselves as Turks in order to survive, they part company in search of work. After much wandering, Kozakoglou finds work as a shepherd and, claiming to be a Kosovar, he develops a close relationship with his kindly employer, who, surprisingly, is treated sympathetically in the narrative. Living in constant fear of discovery, he manages to learn enough of Muslim ways to continue his charade through a series of narrow escapes until he finally saves the money he needs to leave. With the aid of his unwitting employer he secures travel papers and makes his way to Smyrna, where he manages to board a steamer bound for Constantinople. When the ship makes a stop at Mytilini he persuades the Greek officials that despite his convincing Turkish appearances he is really an Anatolian Greek, whereupon he is allowed to stay in Greece.

The short narrative is told in a vivid and powerfully direct manner by the protagonist, whose dispassionate portrayal of the bare events removes the story from its wider historical context while emphasizing the epic struggle for an individual's survival. What is most interesting about the narrative, however, is the way it was written. In his epilogue Doukas explains how he met Kozakoglou and took notes as he listened to the story. Doukas later dictated the story based on his notes to his cousin and published the first draft. In later editions Doukas added material from Kozakoglou and continued to rework it. As Tziovas points out, while the narrative purports to be a "monument of orality" (x) with Doukas being a "mere recorder" of the story, in truth there has been a great deal of fictionalizing and Hellenizing of the original account. Tziovas goes on to suggest that the text's "duplicity" mirrors the protagonist's use of masks so that it is "as much about shedding artistic devices and enabling the facts to 'speak' for themselves as it is about hiding behind thinly disguised identities [...] stressing its status as a truthful account while at the same time flaunting its construction" (xi). Ultimately for Tziovas it is this self-consciousness that makes the book an [End Page 456] important landmark in Greek writing that has become a "formidable model of oral simplicity and stylistic economy for younger writers" (xii).

If the Greek text lives up to Tziovas's praise, the translation itself is problematic. In the original, despite much filtering for us by Doukas, the duality of the protagonist's use of disguises and the construction of...