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The course of an author
Writing a brief introduction to the work of a creative writer who has been in the front ranks of literary and cultural events for many years, as is the case with Manos Kondoleon, is certainly a difficult task, because this particular writer is an entire country in terms of what he carries with him or inside, above or below the surface. Despite this, and at the risk of condemning my own words to lack of correspondence with reality, I will look through his work and attempt to demonstrate his literary personality and individual literary views.
Kondoleon has been writing books for more than 20 years now: books for literary enjoyment and books for information, books for children, young people and adults. He is a professional writer, fully aware of his cultural and social role. To mark his first decade as a writer, I wrote an article entitled “A genuine voice of our times”, which appeared in the newspaper Avyi, on Sunday 15 July 1990. I quote it here in its entirety, before referring to the 1990s. I wrote then: It is certainly difficult, perhaps even impossible, to present briefly the full breadth of an author who has such a large number of books to his credit. I am speaking of Manos Kondoleon, who during his first decade of literary production has given us more than thirty books for young and old. If I am attempting this, always with reservations, it is because I believe that in many ways, he expresses the literary decade 1980-1990 that has just closed. Our era, its concerns and its problems are graphically depicted in his works. Kondoleon’s contribution to modern Greek letters and especially to children’s literature is significant, in terms of both quantity and quality. It is typical that, when he writes, he is only minimally bound by the reading public whom he is ostensibly addressing. This is why he is a genuine, true writer. On this subject, he once wrote: “Dickens wrote for adults. Today he is regarded as a classic writer for children, or rather for children as well. And it is this ‘as well’ that demolishes age-related barriers...”
His books speak the language of a person with no age, which is why they’re free, bold, without prudery, vital, and true to life. He has written almost all genres of prose, including to date eight novels, two novellas, three collections of short stories, six books of tales from the ancient theatre, seven books entitled The vacation book and one with Views about Children’s Literature. Unquestionably an impressive body of work, deserving of respect, and requiring planning, late nights, deprivation.
In all his fiction, he takes up contemporary issues, the problems of our times, whatever is of concern to men and women, young and old. He once wrote: “The pollution of the environment, violence, political events, the sexual revolution, the equality of the sexes, socialist demands, inhuman cities, television, human communication, the drying up of imagination and dreams, death, the loss of humour from daily life, the need to return to nature, the conquest of space, technological discoveries, historical soul-searching – all these and other themes too will inspire writers and interest their readers.”
One of Kondoleon’s characteristics is his strong concern about new techniques and aesthetic forms, a new style of writing. In particular in his last two novels (pub. 1989) he tries new narrative modes (with success, I believe).
In this spirit, he wrote the novel No. 33, a social, psychological novella (he calls it a novel) not about the effects of divorce, but about what happens before the divorce, i.e. what usually leads up to it. The story is advanced internally by a discussion between four members of a family, into which the writer very cleverly draws the reader as well. A solution is found, but the problem (when it arises) is personal. It is worth noting that the exchanges of dialogue between the characters move the story forward in a fast and theatrical way, varying its action and scenes. I believe the author handles the theme skillfully, creating an enjoyable piece of fiction, which is often unexpected, bold and realistic. Thus it can be read by teenagers and adults alike.
His second novel in 1989 was The trip that kills. Everybody knows it now, both parents and the state. The dragons that threaten our young people are the dragons leading them on the voyage of no return. Here Kondoleon gives yet another example of his mature writing. In a realistic way, in “plain” language without symbolic motifs, he deplores the spread of narcotics in our schools. Stephanos, a fifteen-year-old pupil going through the problems of adolescence, takes a “trip”. Here I would say, we are watching the gradual unfolding and internal evolution of the story and its hero in a cinematic way: innocent parties, coffee shops, drinks, cigarettes, torrid glances, “a joint”, a user and then a peddlar of drugs, the death of a “friend”. And the family? Father, mother, younger brother?
At the end, the novel leaves windows of salvation open for Stephanos and for all those in a similar position. From this point of view, it’s not just the knowledge and realistic psychological charting of the youthful soul, but also a book to alert young and old alike. Our era wreaks vengence on anyone who is ignorant, whether voluntarily or not. The trip that kills is a clear warning and revelation to all, particularly young people. It is a book that enriches modern children’s literature thematically.
Kondoleon’s readers should pause over these two books because I believe that in them we can clearly identify two elements: Kondoleon’s rich literary talent and pure literature for children and young people, a cause served by the author with devotion and consistency.
In a general assessment of the man, we might argue that Manos Kondoleon is a profoundly politicised author, a conscious worker of our times.
His second decade, between 1990 and 2000, also witnessed an substantial literary outpouring, noteworthy in quantity and quality: five novels for teenagers and young adults, seven books for children, four anthologies of Greek short stories (in collaboration), four books for secondary school children, eight translations of works by foreign authors, the adult novel The tale of a eunoch, and others. At the same time he has been writing scenaria for television, taking part in Greek and international conferences, serving as member of the Board of the National Book Centre, as member of “Diadromes”, a Club for the Research and Study of Children’s Literature, and of many associations, etc. I refer to his writing activity and to his parallel activities in order to show that he is the kind of man we justly call indefatiguable.
Because I believe that the novel offers writers a better opportunity to “show themselves” totally, i.e. to reveal their literary identity, I’ll confine my remarks to his novels for teenagers and young adults. It is worth noting that through these books, he has introduced a new term into Greece: literature for young adults, i.e. literary texts based on the concerns of young people. I could even argue that these works, including the recent Tale of a eunoch, belong to the traditional, Western genre of the Bildungsroman, or novel of formative education including initiation and apprenticeship, such as Eroika by Kosmas Politis, Aeolian Land by Ilias Venezis, Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, etc. Kondoleon’s novels for young adults Dominic (1992), Taste of bitter almonds (1995) revolving around the threat of AIDS, Mask on the moon (1997) and Rock Refrain (1999) all belong in this category.
Let us pause for a moment at the last two books as they are more faithful expressions of the features of the Bildungsroman about upbringing and education. The voluminous novel (510 pages) Mask on the moon, which received the State Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in 1998, tells the story of two teenagers who are dealing with serious problems at school, at home and in their social environment. These young people are in a state of protest and revolt, and searching for answers to questions about relations with others and with the opposite sex. A young Greek language and literature teacher suggests they look for an outlet in the theatre. In this way, the young people gradually distinguish themselves, begin to mature and to address the problems of their adolescence in a bold and realistic way. Rock Refrain is another novel for young adults, i.e. it expresses the concerns of youth. Allow me to quote here what I wrote an article on the subject in the magazine Diadromes: “This doesn’t happen to me often, but when I happen to read something with the flavour of a new style of writing and a new breath of life, I enjoy the text and live the atmosphere of the story intensely. Reading Rock Refrain I felt like a rocker! I felt as though I were a friend of Linos and his gang and we were singing the ballads together. An atmosphere full of youthful dreams, anxiety, passion, problems and concerns permeates the entire book. This shows how well the author of the novel understands the psychology of young people. Around the basic story, the conflict between father and son that is expressed primarily by the son’s desire to pursue a career, not as his father’s successor but to chart his own course, revolve characters and events that give the story breadth, such as the world of rock music, vested interests, drugs etc. Markelos, Linos’ father, was a famous composer and singer of modern Greek songs. But he died young. Will his talented son Linos base his career on his father’s work? It is a rich, mature and modern novel. Of the 15 songs included in the text, the one entitled I’m not is worthy of note; it is a song that cries out.”
It is easy for the reader to spot the strong social nature of Manos Kondoleon’s novels through a variety of themes dealing with the family, the state and the broader social environment, themes that reflect young people’s concerns and apprenticeship of life. His style of writing is likewise characterised by fresh, spirited realism. He touches upon sensitive, dangerous issues such as sex, drugs, divorce, conflicts, etc. in a unique way. His search for new modes of expression on the level of language and structure is also visible. And as has already been pointed out, he has developed his texts, thereby elevating children’s and young people’s literature to higher levels. His writing has a certain pride, and when he writes “I like being a writer”, the phrase which has given the present book its title, I find it absolutely in keeping with his character.
Manos Kondoleon is among the revitalisers of literature for children and young adults. He has trained himself to explore difficult themes and is familiar with the psychology of children and young people, which is why it is hardly accidental that his readership keeps growing constantly, as does the volume of ever favourable reviews of his work.
In closing this brief introduction, I would like to express the opinion that, within the texts that follow, readers will discover a passionate and dedicated author, who offers them much benefit and enjoyment.
Professor of the University of Thessaly