By Ada Ghyvalou
Professor of Greek Modern Literature at the Pedagogic School of Primary Education of the University of Athens
An overall evaluation of Alki Zei’s literary work: from “I” to “We”
Social issues, personal experiences, recent and contemporary historic events are the main axes of Alki Zei’s literary work, whether this is either addressed to children or to adults. These dominant themes are literary submitted in a multilevel and elaborate style that satisfies the demand of every reader of her work.
Alki Zei belongs to the writers of the after war (Second World War) generation, in fact being one of its main representatives, not only because of her work for adults (Achilles ‘fiancée – 1987, The twelfth grandmother and more… - 2000, Spanish shoes – 2010), but also with her novels for grown-up children. Through the juxtaposition and the synthesis of adult and child situation, often with youthful thinking and perception of reality, child innocence, purity of child view and subversive mood, Alki Zei fashions a natural style of writing, realistic and spontaneous, without didacticism, with humour and irony that converts cruel reality into exciting fiction, fertile for further research and questioning.
The basic feature of all her books is the lived reality and the immediate experience. Alki Zei, apart from Achilles’ fiancée, has written another two books addressed to adults, The twelfth grandmother and more… and Spanish shoes, which consist of short literally autobiographic stories in which allusion is made to real persons of spiritual and artistic life of Greece and other countries, persons that the author herself has met, like Kostas Varnalis, Nikos Kavadias, Odysseus Elytis, Andreas Empeirikos, Anna Synodinou, Vasso Manolidou, Eduardo de Filippo, Nana Kallianiessi, Elli Pappa, Dido Sotiriou, Eleftherios Venizelos, Karolos Koun, Melina Merkouri and many more.
In these books “I” and “We” are intermingled, as historic moments and events are mentioned, personal feelings, inner thoughts are expressed which revive periods of the author’s life, many of which coincide with dramatic events of our country, as it happens in the short stories “Lefkossias street” and “Spanish shoes”. Other texts refer to important cultural events, like the contribution of IKAROS editions in the spiritual life of Athens. These purely autobiographic short stories, beyond their literary value, also play the role of adjacent material to her main novels, as they offer information that helps explain her thematic preferences, her inspiration, her literary, social and ideological influences. Their stylistic characteristics (simplicity, speech immediacy, humour) render these texts extremely popular.
Alki Zei’s fictional work has many autobiographical elements that intermingle with historic events and sociopolitical situations that interlace with her own life. “My life has unwillingly been involved in history and I’ve become part of it. Therefore my literary work, whether I want it or not, is full of History.”
Historic events in her work are often connected with testimony, since the author, by the interference of autobiographic elements, takes part, meddles in history, and questions the relation of herself with the environment. History is offered to the reader not through the enumeration and description of events, but through the subjective testimony and the personal experience that are diffused to the fictional characters of her novels.
All Alki Zei’s novels, results of personal and collective experiences, historic events and social problems, are characterized by their narrative mastery and technique. The use of modern narrative techniques, like boxing, artful intertextual integration, inner monologue, mail insertion, narrator alternations (first or third person) from novel to novel, multiple viewing angle of events, use of time through acceleration, flashbacks and foreshadowing, but mainly the design of characters and the dynamic development of the plot of the novels, as well as the use of figurative language, reveal the strength of her writing.
At the same time, the viewing of events through the eyes of children and the use of humour that balance the realistic style of texts, make her books extremely popular to the young readership. The respect to historic truth, the discreet projection of ideological messages, the reference to crucial historic events and social problems without evasion or concealment, render Alki Zei a pioneer in the literature for children and young readers. This is confirmed by the various national and international distinctions of her work, as well as by the fact that her work is studied as a subject of research and teaching at the University.