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Reviewed by:
  • Data from the Decade of the Sixties: A Novel
  • Panagiotis Roilos
Thanassis Valtinos , Data from the Decade of the Sixties: A Novel. Translated by Jane Assimakopoulos and Stavros Deligiorgis. Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press. 2000. Pp. 307. $19.95.

Three years after the successful introduction of the author to a broad English-speaking audience with their translation of his collection of short stories and his novella (Deep Blue, Almost Black), Jane Assimakopoulos and Stavros Deligiorgis now offer a new masterful translation of one of the most intriguing works by Valtinos,

It is only rarely that Valtinos's works follow established generic conventions and, to be sure, Data from the Decade of the Sixties is no exception to the rule. The author's characterization of the book as a novel, offered in the paratextual form of an appendage to the title, should not be taken as an innocent genre indication but rather as an ironic reference to the expectations of the average reader. The subversive function of this paratextual sign is nicely illustrated by the cover of the English edition where it also conspicuously accompanies the title of the book. A colorful collage of fragmented photographs that allude to [End Page 290] different layers of Greek history and culture—ancient past, popular Christian art, urban life, modernization, contemporary politics—the cover of this elegant paperback edition could be read as a visual commentary on the metonymic structure of the book.

Data is written in the form of a fictional archive composed of a series of letters, most of them addressed by young women to Mrs. Mina, the anchorwoman of a radio program for love-sick young people, as well as news clips, advertisements, official documents, personal correspondence between friends and family members, and the letters of desperately poor villagers to DEME (Department for Emigration from Europe). There is no specific plot to connect these narrative units; they are juxtaposed as self-contained fragments in a broader open-ended archival corpus. Time is the only traditional narrative convention that has been preserved, albeit not religiously observed, in this "novel." The book opens with a letter to Mrs. Mina, written on 9 January 1960, and ends with a passage supposedly taken from an Athenian newspaper of 14 December 1969. This time frame also defines the thematic scope of the novel: the major socio-political changes in Greece in the decade of the sixties as viewed through the prism of some neglected "documents."

If the introductory part of the novel—the letter to Mrs. Mina—initiates the readers into the private world of its obscure characters, a world largely formed in a strained interaction between traditional values and imported visions of modernity, its concluding passage—a report of the explosion of a cherry bomb at the courthouse building in Larissa—subtly alludes to the violent changes in the Greek socio-political domain during the transitional decades of the sixties and seventies. It is by means of such a consistent dialogue between private micro-history and public events that Data from the Decade of the Sixties echoes the cultural and social tensions in the Greece of this period.

This juxtaposition of private and public or semi-public discourses creates a rich multivocality throughout the novel. The juxtaposition of the katharévousa of the newspapers and the official documents with various demotic registers—unadorned, literary, and hyper-corrected demotic—reproduces on the linguistic level the fragmentary nature of the narrative. In the original Greek, a laconic letter of a Cretan villager to DEME forcefully exemplifies this occasionally disturbed dialogue between orality and hegemonizing official discourse: (Valtinos 1989:152, my emphasis). The usage of the dialectic form in the same context with the archaizing dative and the puristic produces an allusive ironic linguistic commentary—further intensified by the concluding emphatic re-enactment of oral speech (the exclamation )—that the English rendition in this volume fails to reproduce: "I hereby submit the required papers and inform you that my wife Vasiliki is in no way pregnant, at least not now, not yet" (122).

In reviewing Deep Blue, Almost Black, I observed that "Valtinos refuses to subscribe to the premises of grand historical discourses or epic literary...


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