by Vangelis Hadjivasileiou
Article published in ELEFTHEROTYPIA newspaper on 22/6/2003
I know very little about children’s literature or about literature for young people. But going through the new book by Alki Zei, I felt, from the very first pages, that this book absolutely concerned me, despite being an adult reader. And I confess that this feeling stayed with me to the end. Constantina and her Spiders is a modern, extremely well balanced social novel, the main character being a thirteen-year old girl who is going through a very painful voyage of self-awareness, when she is called upon to get to the heart of serious family and personal problems.
She is the child of a couple of Greek teachers who live and work in Germany; Constantina adores her school in Aachen, she enjoys every moment of her everydayness. But the relationship between her parents isn’t working out; soon they will separate and a new married life will start for each one. The little girl, then, has to come back to Athens and live with her grandmother who does little else but stuff her head with stories about the triumph of the Left, the Resistance and the Greek Civil War.
Far away from her mother and father, living with a despotic, totally indifferent grandmother, Constantina will come across the temptation of drugs and in full consciousness (as consciously as things like that can happen) she will give in to it. Even a few hours of happiness and self-confidence are better than the constant, unyielding image of a broken family and of a lonely, depressingly inactive life. And when the story with the drugs becomes known, the grandmother will come down, whether she likes it or not, from her ideological pedestal and Constantina will finally step out of danger and will learn how not to bypass but to face all her problems directly.
By focusing her narration exclusively on the expression of a thirteen-year old girl, Alki Zei succeeds in reaching a lot more than the child is in a position to know. This achievement is due to the careful planning of the plot and to the step-by-step development of the relations between the characters. May I add here that while the book does not try to conceal its educational nature (an effort to spot and overcome a burning social issue), there is not a shadow of didacticism or preaching, which could lie heavily on its world. With lively characters, a usually underlying humour and a perfect economy of power, Alki Zei creates a complete novel, to be read by readers of any age.