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Reviews 181 that in the pursuit of his method Rehayioglou sets up models that are not always convincing (for example, the grid of paraUel intersecting thematic axes [Section 1.5] where elements of the story are forced into an arbitrary pattern). One cannot quarrel, however, with Rehayioglou 's thoroughness and his assessment of Papadiamandis' work. Elizabeth Constantinides Çïueens College of the City University of New York Stratis Myrivilis, Life in the Tomb. Translated by Peter Bien with a new introduction by Peter Levi. Hanover and London: University Press of New England. 1987. Pp. xxiii + 328. $12.95. Life in the Tomb had a difficult birth. It became a novel rather by accident than design. The book consists of the fictional manuscripts of a sergeant killed in the trenches—a device which enabled the author to ensure its unity through serial publication of the first version in 1924. "War stories" was its subtitle in the first complete edition of 1930 (Athens). In addition, the separability of many of its chapters allowed the author to add sections as the years went by. Myrivilis was able to go on tinkering with the structure because of his decision to have Sergeant Rostoulas record his impressions in the form of a journal (or unsent letters to his fiancée) without dates. Often he describes events that have just occurred, and the present tense of much of the narrative gives immediacy to the story, which the reader perceives as though at that very moment the events are taking place. A journal cannot be expected to possess the intricately woven plot and the organic unity of a novel, nor can it, at least in real life, have a teleology. Rostoulas cannot know what we have been informed of in the prologue—he will die in a particularly futile manner, mistakenly incinerated by an allied flame-thrower. Whereas a conventional novelist would have had his characters constantly appear at various junctures, their personalities developing as the novel progressed , Myrivilis often isolates all incidents concerning a particular character within a single chapter, which becomes a short story in itself. Isolation is in fact one of the chief themes of Life in the Tomb. Rostoulas is a largely solipsistic narrator, observing the other characters from a distance and rarely interacting with them. Even his younger brother, for whom he shows a profound tenderness, is often depicted asleep while Rostoulas keeps vigil over his notebook. He is 182 Reviews the conscience of the company, a privileged observer who ponders and records the agonies that others experience but do not articulate. What Rostoulas learns most in the trenches is the value of life: deprivation makes him aware of so much that he had previously taken for granted. Trench warfare, he sees, perverts human nature—and particularly the nature of the Greek. What he sees as natural and what makes life worth living include freedom from physical bonds, dashing good looks, the joy of loving sexual activity between a man and a woman, and the tilling of the soil to bring forth fruit. Rostoulas' ideal os a harmony between Greek man and Greek nature. Modern warfare forces men to live underground, cowering from the sunlight, deprived of health and youth, crawling on their bellies like worms or bent double like pack-animals; but even nature can be overpowering, like the overwhelmingly engulfing primeval forest in Serbia which perverts manhood into bestiality. Never before had Greek prose offered such vivid and voluptuous evocations of the sensual experience of pleasure and pain. Some of the many acute observations of wounded and dismembered bodies show a morbid—even a cynically clinical—fascination with the physical. But, as Rostoulas asserts, "The whole of creation exists only through the flesh; bodily equilibrium determines universal equilibrium" (p. 135); and he often illustrates how little it takes to transform a man into a corpse. Perhaps such obsessive description is a symptom of the perversion of human consciousness by war. One of the most striking aspects of Myrivilis' technique, moreover, is the extended simile that attributes animal malevolence to the technology of modern warfare— the searchlight as an octopus' tentacle and Polyphemus' eye; the cannons as monstrous ejaculating phalluses whose sperm...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 181-183
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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