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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)
by Alki Zei
Age Range: 9-11
As Athens is occupied by Italian and German troops in 1941, ten-year-old Petros decides it will be his heroic war filled with deeds of valour just like those of his heroes in his many books. However, liberating a dog from a German soldier and painting slogans on walls after dark for the Resistance do not require the heroism he had imagined.
As the book gathers momentum, the reality of war and its hardships begin to take their toll on the population. Petros witnesses the terrible famine that envelopes Athens, people dying of hunger, with even his own grandfather going out begging for food. Dead bodies begin to be left outside the cemetery walls as people are unable to bury their dead. Most Greeks are united in their opposition to the invaders but there are still those who are prepared to collaborate such as the local Baker with his three daughters, nicknamed ‘The Little Czarinas’ and Petros’ neighbour who takes up with a German soldier.
The mood changes significantly and the situation becomes much more serious when the Nazis take full control of Athens from the Italians after Italy joins the allies. The protest march against forced labour through the streets of Athens is particularly full of pathos – the humourous image of oranges being hurled at the Carabinieri soon turns to tragedy. Petros finds himself caught up in the terrifying ‘Blocko’ – on 1st May 1944 when the Germans randomly round up people in the city and herd them to the main square blocking off the exits and witnesses individual callous acts of cruelty towards those he cares about.
The novel’s gentle start belies the horror to come. Zei successfully weaves the historical details of the occupation with the way in which people react to such events. The characters are the main focus and over the course of the novel changes in both adults and children become evident as the war develops.