Peasants & Masters, the first in the Greek Chronicle by Theodor Kallifatides, explores the tensions in Greece between the common person and his German occupier in the midst of World War II. It is set in the town of Ialos, which can be translated as "shore", one not visible from an inland town. (25) Perhaps this distinction is intentional, for the narrator notes that while those by the shore wait for the boat, those inland wait for the bus. The boat pulls away slowly, allowing time to say goodbye to those aboard; the bus is "merely depressing", since there is no image to remember. (21) This depression is indicative of Ialites, since they seemingly have nowhere to turn except themselves in need. Ialites, as it turns out, are too schizophrenic to help themselves.

Kallifatides creates vivid characters inclined to ribald humor and a love of sexuality and its after effects. Take, for example, the example of the confectioner who hanged himself in shame after being accused of homosexual behavior. Kallifatides opens his novel hinting at his deeds, only noting that he hanged himself from a chestnut subsequently known as the "hanging chestnut". (13-14) Only later in the novel does the reader learn what the confectioner actually did. It turns out that the confectioner made loukoumi, a type of jelly roll popular with children but considered the mark of the gay man. Since the art of loukoumi was developed in the city of Petra, Petra was considered the seat of pedophiles and men bent on seducing other men with a "few trembling bills". (137) The confectioner married against protocol, yet he, his wife, and children were relentlessly harrassed, his shop covered with graffiti and mocked (though heavily patronized). In a show of Greek ambivalence towards the Turkish, some Ialites called to import policemen from Turkey, since according to local legend Turks were very skilled at detecting homosexual men. (138) Ultimately, his wife took a secret lover in the form of a distinguished general, driving an already shamed man to suicide. (139)

This story is a foil for Ialite ambivalence about Hitler, viewed as effeminate, and his army. As ambivalent the Greeks were towards their neighbors, they were more confused by the Germans, whose kurt style and attempts to bring the Ialites into line merely resulted in mockery from the laid-back, jocular villagepeople. Perhaps the only person most villagers took seriously was David Kalin, the village's only Jewish person. Few villagers truly understood his fear of the Nazi occupation, since few in town had any realization of Hitler's intense hatred of the Jew. Yet the meek schoolteacher took David's children after the Germans spread anti-Semitic propaganda. Even then, the schoolteacher's son Minos developed an infatuation with David's daughter Reveka. (91 - 4)

Ialites are contradictory to the end, purporting to love their masters, yet never becoming the peasants. Continuously living within their snow globe, they can't get anything right. Loving when told to hate, humorous in times of seriousness, Kallifatides gets one thing right: he pierces two-dimensions, adding time and depth.

From my own work, notes included for convenience. 2001

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