Nakos, Lilika 1903-1989
NAKOS, Lilika 1903-1989
PERSONAL: Born 1903, in Greece; died 1989.
CAREER: Novelist, journalist, and short story writer.
I kolasi ton paidion, 1944, translated as The Children's Hell and Children's Inferno: Stories of the Great Famine in Greece, Gateway, 1946.
Also author of Le livre de mon pierrot, 1928, published in Greek as The Deflowered One, 1932; The Lost, 1935; Nafsica, 1953; Boetian Earth; Towards a New Life (sequel to Boetian Earth), 1960; Ikarian Dreamers, 1963; and Mrs. Doremi.
SIDELIGHTS: Lilika Nakos is best remembered for her story collection titled Children's Inferno: Stories of the Great Famine in Greece. In these stories she explores not only the horrific details of the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II, but she also delves into the psyche of women in 1930s Greece. In Women's Studies critic Deborah Tannen wrote, "Nakos' novels are concerned with women's coming of age: their introductions to sex, love, and social injustice."
While Children's Inferno is not Nakos's only collection of short stories, it is the only one available in English. Nakos based Children's Inferno on her own observations while working as a nurse in an Athens hospital during the wartime German occupation of Greece. It was a horrific time to live in Athens: The Nazis not only began systematically to starve the civilian population, they also went so far as to tear limbs from children during violent torture sessions. A reviewer for the New Yorker commented of Children's Inferno: "Nakos's literary skill, compassion, and faith in her people have made her book much more than a mere chronicle of horror." The book proved so powerful that its publication led the International Red Cross to undertake a massive humanitarian aid campaign for Greece.
After Children's Inferno Nakos wrote two novels that share a similar theme. In Boetian Earth and Toward a New Life the female protagonists exhibit strong national pride and deep commitment to their Greek ancestry. Another recurring theme in Nakos's early work is the portrayal of the mother/daughter relationship. The maturation of these relationships progresses from adolescent disgust and rebellion to deeper understanding and respect as the daughter reverses roles and must begin to take care of her own mother.
Nakos moved to Switzerland in 1947 after her own mother died as a result of harsh treatment during the occupation. There she wrote two pieces in French, Nafsica and Mrs. Doremi. Nafsica is thought to be an ode to her mother. It is unusual in that one of the main characters, Lena, is warmly portrayed as a sweet and compassionate, yet feeble, old woman. Tannen also suggested, "The portrait of the mother as an innocent victim of a cruel and grasping husband makes this Nakos' most feminist work." The second piece Nakos wrote while living in Switzerland was Mrs. Doremi. This work is quite incongruous with Nakos's normal style as it is her only comic novel. Apparently, it was inspired by time Nakos spent teaching at a boys' school in Crete.
Ikarian Dreamers, Nakos's last novel, was written in 1963 after she returned to live in Greece. This work is unique because Nakos chooses a male protagonist for the first time. Also, the end of the novel is surprisingly upbeat for Nakos; she has the principle characters marry, even in the face of an uncertain future.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 29, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Tannen, Deborah, Lilika Nakos, Twayne (New York, NY), 1983.
New Yorker, November 9, 1946, p. 126.
New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, December 1, 1946, p. 40.
Weekly Book Review, December 1, 1946, p. 40.
Women's Studies, Volume 6, number 2, 1979, pp. 205-215.*