The purple umbrella

© 1995

A novel for children

 

1. L' ombrelle mauve, Genève: La Joie de Lire, 2000 (French)
2. L' ombrello viola, Milano: Mondadori, 2004 (Italian)
3. Seoul: Changbi Publishers, 2008 (Korean)
4. Mor semsiye, Istanbul: BU Yayinevi, 2013(Turkish)

 

 

 

Eleftheria, a thirteen-year old girl, the main character of this novel by Alki Zei, knows very well this expensive game, that sometimes we call dream, sometimes fantasy, and sometimes miracle. Her twin little brothers who are planning trips to the end of the world know it as well. For such expeditions they don’t need luggage, preparations, supplies, they don’t have to think it over, to say goodbye and – especially – they don’t need to pay the fare. Often a “Purple Umbrella” is enough. And then:

“Ready. We are ready. Where are we heading for? Let’s go to Elad, I proposed. Where did you find that? It is an island somewhere near Finland. Wild ducks used to go there, with Nils Holgerson…”

They were off.

Imagination then. And a torrent of humour. Or rather waves; waves that softly break on the shore, withdraw silently in order to return quietly – whispering, not splashing – and spread around amidst iridescence of joy, sobs, laughter.

Discreetly but persistently humour permeates the pages of The Purple Umbrella. Humour is the surplus of the soul – and therefore successful. And it is capable of caressing or groping for secret thoughts and feelings. Ah! Humour certainly is an educator of the soul. It can rarely be found in novels for young people; in Greek novels at least, to be honest, it is almost non-existent. But Alki Zei is gifted with a very special sense of humour; we know that from all her books. Even in the most bitter and inconsolable pages you see something shining, you hear a voice promising you something, all as necessary as a sparrow’s twitter in a cement-city. Humour, then, is the most important element that we gain, when reading The Purple Umbrella. We also gain the warmth of a soul that the pages irradiate and the natural flow of the dialogues. The moral stature of her characters, as well. Finally we have the sheer pleasure that reading her writing gives us.

Subject wise the novel lays at the era of half a century ago, a hard period for the whole world because of World War II. However, this is a warm, tender and nostalgic story of childhood. There is the shadow of the superb Uncle Miltos who is always somewhere between perishing and being saved, and a subdued young mother who once rebelled. She put on the children’s skates and her heart was for a moment full of joy, carefree; alas she quickly came back to her senses and felt ashamed under the relentless glance of the severe father. There is also Benoit, the boy from France, who suffers silently for the loss of his parents who belong to the resistance. At that time the Constitution had been abolished by the Dictatorship of 4 August and the tragedy of the German Occupation was pending. The chaos and the horror of World War II was already spreading but hadn’t yet reached the members of the family, with the exception of Monsieur Marcel, a quiet French teacher, who lives in the house, and is all the time glued to the radio, listening to foreign stations and being really worried. The focus here is on the doings of the children: the misdeeds of the boys, the fear of punishment, the dreams of Eleftheria and her – at times exaggerated– wisdom, the school, where the twins are not doing so well, friendships, exchange of secrets, unexpected acquaintances, games, precious arrivals, truancies. And a river of dreams. And the hot summer afternoons when the grown-ups are having their siesta and the gardens wake up and the children grow wings and fly endlessly. No, the world hasn’t shown them its cruelty yet. The suburb of Athens, Maroussi, where the story takes place, was still countryside full of flowers. Eleftheria and the twins were privileged children. Pain, hunger, despair and death, that -- once again – were ravaging and tormenting humanity, had bypassed their door.