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Vassilikos, Vassilis 1933–

Vassilikos, Vassilis 1933–

(Vasilēs Vasilikos)

PERSONAL: Surname is accented on last syllable; born November 18, 1933 (some sources say 1934), in Kavala, Greece; son of Nicolas and Katy (Zaphizion) Vassilikos; married Dimitra Atsedes (a painter and pianist), June 29, 1960 (marriage ended); married Vasso Papantoniou, 1985; children: one daughter. Education: Attended Anatolia College, 1946–52; University of Salonika, diploma in law, 1956; attended School of Radio and Television, New York, NY. Politics: Communist. Religion: Greek Orthodox.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Eric Linder, A.L.I., Corso Mettestti 3, Milano, Italy.

CAREER: Assistant director of documentary films, 1961; Tachydromos (weekly magazine), Athens, Greece, freelance reporter, 1962–63; full-time writer, 1963–; director-general of Greek TV (public television), 1981–85. Has also worked as an actor and writer for Greek movies; presenter for weekly television program about literature. Ambassador, UNESCO, 1996–. Military service: Greek Army, infantry reserve officer and interpreter in English and French, 1956.

AWARDS, HONORS: Ford Foundation grant, 1959; award for best Greek fiction of the year, Group of Twelve, c. 1961, for To phyllo; To pegadi; T'angeliasma: A Trilogy; first prize, Berlin Film Festival, 1963, for Young Aphrodites.

WRITINGS:

IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION

In the Prison of Philippi (radio play; originally broadcast in Greece), 1954.

To phyllo; To pegadi; T'angeliasma: A Trilogy (novels), three volumes, Vivliopoleion tes Hestias (Athens, Greece), 1961, translation by Edmund Keeley and Mary Keeley published as The Plant; The Well; The Angel: A Trilogy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1964.

Young Aphrodites (screenplay; based on Longus' Dapnis and Chloe), 1963.

Hoi photographies, Vivliopoleion tes Hestias (Athens, Greece), 1964, translation by Mike Edwards published as The Photographs, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1971.

Zeta (novel), Ekdoseis Themelio (Athens, Greece), 1966, translation by Marilyn Calmann published as Z, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968.

Hors les murs (newspaper articles), 1970, translation by Mike Edwards published as Outside the Walls, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1973.

The Harpoon Gun (novella and stories), translated by Barbara Bray, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1973.

Omonarchis, translation published as The Monarch, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1976.

The Few Things I Know about Glafkos Thrassakis (fictionalized autobiography), 1978, translated by Karen Emmerich, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2002.

The Coroner's Assistant: A Fictional Documentary, translated by Peter Pappas, Pella Publishing (New York, NY), 1990.

And Dreams Are Dreams (stories), translated by Mary Kitroeff, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1995.

Also author of screenplay Epitaph over Berlin, directed by Jiri Sequens. Vassilikos's writings have been translated into French and other languages.

IN GREEK

He diegese tou Iasona, Oikos G. Phexe (Athens, Greece), 1962.

He mythologia tes Amerikes (travel book), Vivliopoleion tes Hestias (Athens, Greece), 1963, second edition, 1970.

Ektos ton teichon, Ekdoseis Themelio (Athens, Greece), 1966.

Thymata eirenes (novel), Vivliopolein Tes Hestias (Athens, Greece), 1970.

Kapheneion Emigkrek ho Hagios Klaudios, Ekdoseis Themelio (Athens, Greece), 1972, second edition, Pleias (Athens, Greece), 1973.

Synantese me ton helio, Ekdoseis (Athens, Greece), 1972.

(Translator) Regis Debray, Mathainontas ap' tous Toupamaros, Ekdoseis (Athens, Greece), 1972.

To magnetophono dyo, 1972.

Phiphty—Phiphty, 1972.

Eikosi, eikosi, kai phiphty phiphty, 1974.

He kathodos, 1974.

Glaukos Thrasakes, Mythistorema, 1974.

To hemerologio tou "Zeta", 1974.

To Portraito henos agoniste, 1974.

Anamneseis apo ton Cheirona Kai alles histories, Vivliopoleion tes Hestias (Athens, Greece), 1975.

Portraito, Vivliopoleion tes Hestias (Athens, Greece), 1976.

To kalokairi tou Erotokritou, 1976.

Ho planodios plasie, 1976.

Ta silo, 1976.

Hena-hena-tessara metokesen eis agnoston dieuthynsin, 1976.

Ho iatrodikastes, 1977.

Kath'hodon, 1977.

Sarx kai Marx, 1977.

Trochalies, 1977.

To limani tes agonias kai alla diegemata, 1978.

ADAPTATIONS: The novel Z was adapted for a feature film.

SIDELIGHTS: With an approach to writing that has been compared to that of James Joyce, Vassilis Vassilikos has been called one of the premier Greek novelists writing today. Like Joyce, he often employs heavy symbolism in his work. This is never more evident than in his novel The Photographs, a story of a man named Lazarus, who lives in Necropolis ("Dead City"). Lazarus, it will be remembered, is a character in the Bible who returns from the dead. "Vassilikos is an original," wrote George Giannaris in Books Abroad. "He breaks words down into their original meaning, and through the etymologies and anagrammatisms he injects a dose of humor which contributes to a pleasant reading of the 'printed' word." Despite being "pleasant reading," Vassilikos's style requires patience on the reader's part. His "narrative is difficult to follow," noted Giannaris, "but if the reader is able to do so, he will enjoy the black humor and manner in which the human condition is ridiculed."

A consistent element in Vassilikos's writings is politics. For instance, The Harpoon Gun, a collection of short stories and two novels, is built around the subject of exile. The Harpoon Gun, wrote Edwin Jahiel in Books Abroad, "is not entertainment or a stylistic exercise…. It is essentially a treatise on sociopolitical conditions, but of such a specifically Greek nature that allusions, references, and 'personages a cle' will be fully appreciated only by those readers … who are able to become involved in the protracted dialectics of the Resistance."

One of Vassilikos's best known works in the United States is Z. Like The Harpoon Gun, Z is concerned with politics and exile as a reaction to it. Z is a story of the murder of the Greek socialist figure Lambrakis. As Peter Sourian observed in the New York Times Book Review: "At the end of that book, the fates of those involved in the affair are told: evil was handsomely rewarded and ordinary decency carried a heavy price." Sourian continued: "One price can be exile, a Greek solution to political questions…. Vassilikos himself, after Z was banned by the present Government, lived in exile from his own country."

An alternative to exile is proposed in The Monarch. In a review for the Saturday Review/World, Robert J. Clements observed that one of the merits Vassilikos displays in this book is that he does not allow his artistic goals to conflict. "Vassilikos almost always remembers that he is first of all a novelist," Clements wrote. "He accepts experimental techniques as compatible with his didactic purpose and as by no means an intrusion of form into content."

In 1995 Vassilikos published a collection of short fiction,… And Dreams Are Dreams. As with earlier works, these stories reflect the author's defense of leftist politics and his castigation of the capitalists and imperialists who, he believes, have repeatedly betrayed his homeland. What makes the stories remarkable, wrote Peter Bien in World Literature Today, is the adroit way in which Vassilikos combines "politics and fantasy … realism and surrealism … disgust and joy." These elements are entwined in various configurations throughout the seven stories, reflecting the shimmering strands of contradiction that categorize Greece today. "Perhaps the greatest ogre in these stories is Athens," Bien commented, a city of decay situated in the middle of "a Greece of dreams." The significance and power of dreams are central to this collection, according to critic for Publishers Weekly, as evidenced by the title story in which a newspaper devoted to reporting people's dreams is credited with achieving "revolutionary political impact."

The most powerful dreams are the ones whose meanings remain mysteries and thereby transform realism into what Bien called "surrealistic fantasy." One story is about a writer struggling to be the instrument of such a transformation. Another records the antics of a runaway performing bear. The reader will find gypsies and cab drivers within these pages, lovers and businessmen, even a tigress who can turn herself into a woman. Ostensibly lighthearted, these kaleidoscopic stories treat serious themes. "All told," Bien concluded, "the writing is fresh, different, and compelling." The Publishers Weekly reviewer identified in them a "singular mixture of self-consciousness, naturalism, allegory and caprice" that makes Vassilikos's latest book "provocative and entertaining."

Vassilikos called his The Few Things I Know about Glafkos Thrassakis an "autonovegraphy," according to Mary Park in the New York Times Book Review. Originally published in 1978, the novel was translated into English in 2002. It features an unnamed biographer who resembles his subject, Glafkos Thrassakis, a Greek writer whose pen name is Lazarus Lazaridis and who seems a lot like Vassilikos himself. At least some of the book is made up of the biographer's "unpublished" notes about Thrassakis. When the narrator is commissioned to write the biography, he discovers that the writer's documents are scattered around the world. The deeper he delves into Thrassakis's life, the more elusive the truth becomes. The narrator begins to question whether Thrassakis even existed. While one Publishers Weekly contributor found the first chapters "whimsical" and "cheekily morbid," the contributor also commented negatively on the many summaries of Thrassakis's work. Park remarked, on the other hand, that "the writing never fails to hold our attention, and even the book's digressions are constructed with infinite care." She also observed that Vassilikos's writing "has been too rarely translated into English; one can only hope that this complex, multilayered novel will change that."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4, 1975, Volume 8, 1978.

PERIODICALS

Books Abroad, autumn, 1972, George Giannaris, review of The Photographs, pp. 721-722; spring, 1974, Edwin Jahiel, review of The Harpoon Gun, p. 409.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of The Few Things I Know about Glafkos Thrassakis, p. 1730.

New York Times Book Review, November, 17, 1968, review of Z, p. 81; May 6, 1973, review of The Harpoon Gun, p. 39; August 15, 1976, review of The Monarch, p. 25; March 30, 2003, Mary Park, review of The Few Things I Know about Glafkos Thrassakis, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, October 2, 1995, review of … And Dreams Are Dreams, p. 54; January 6, 2003, review of The Few Things I Know about Glafkos Thrassakis, p. 41.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2003, Allen Hibbard, review of The Few Things I Know about Glafkos Thrassakis, p. 136.

Saturday Review/World, November 16, 1968, Robert J. Clements, review of The Monarch, p. 51.

Times Literary Supplement, December 17, 1971, review of The Photographs, p. 1568.

World Literature Today, fall, 1996, Peter Bien, review of … And Dreams Are Dreams, p. 1004.

ONLINE

Prague Writers' Festival Web site, http://www.pwf.cz/ (April 18, 2003), "Authors of the 11th Prague Writers' Festival," brief biography of Vassilis Vassilikos.

Seven Stories Press Web site, http://www.sevenstories.com/ (April 18, 2003), brief biography of Vassilis Vassilikos and description of The Few Things I Know about Glafkos Thrassakis.

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