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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Wildcat Under Glass
by Alki Zei
Age Range: 9-11
Set in 1936, the story centres on a family living on a Greek Island whose members react in different ways to the changing political climate after a Fascist dictatorship is installed. Nine-year-old Melia, the narrator, fears for her beloved cousin Niko who is in the resistance movement and has had to go into hiding, Grandfather, Mama and Stamatina hate what is happening, so too does their father, but he is concerned he will lose his job at the bank if he is not seen to outwardly comply with the new rules and regulations. Great-aunt Despina doesn’t see what all the fuss is about and Melia’s older sister, Myrto proudly joins the Fascist Youth organisation at school unaware of the sinister undertones of the fascist doctrine.
Combined with changing life on the Greek island due to the war, is the portrayal of the idyllic summer holidays Melia spends in Lamagari with her friends Artemis, Manoli, Odysseus and little Aurora. The stuffed Wildcat in a glass cabinet holds a place of honour in the family home and comes to symbolize the spirit of freedom that was kept alive in Greece after the Fascist dictatorship came to power.
Alki Zei successfully combines humour – the bumbling policemen as they tail the children up the mountainside – with the chilling image of books being burnt in the town square, including Grandfather’s beloved ‘ancients’ and Myrto’s changing character as she is slowly indoctrinated with the fascist beliefs. The author skilfully weaves a story of every-day events set against a backdrop of the changing political situation in Greece, a land where democracy originated but that is now slowly being eroded.