Review for Petros’ war

Review for Petros’ war

Although this story is about a young boy’s life in occupied Athens during the Second World War, it has the realism of adapted autobiography, for Miss Zei was herself a child in the city at that time.  As a story, it is episodic but still carried forward by the most terrible suspense of all -which of the characters will survive to see the day of freedom? There are horrors enough -unarmed youngsters shot down in cold blood, the secret disposal of a friend’s dead grandmother so that the starving family can keep her rations- but they are not laboured.

The lasting impression and probably the most authentic is of everyday miseries and their effect on the boy’s immediate acquaintance. As food, fuel and clothes become ever scarcer, grandfather is caught stealing an unfair share of the bread, mother’s interest in life narrows to the struggle for daily existence, the woman in the flat below encourages her daughter’s flirtation with a German officer, the local baker becomes an extortionate profiteer, a gawky schoolfellow turns out to be a resistance worker.

 Local colour is not obtrusive; indeed, except for a few references to peculiarly Greek festivals and foods, the scene might be any city of occupied Europe. Young readers may not take to the somewhat poetical patriotism of the young Greeks but most of the dialogue seems natural enough and often humorous. All the characters are vivid but one is outstanding -the hero’s rather disreputable gamin friend, a kind of Athens Cockney, whose mischief is turned against the Germans but in the end costs him his life.  Girls should find this story as absorbing as boys, for young Petros has an older sister and girl students play an important part in resistance activities. It is a book well worth having on school and public library shelves and deserves wide readership in the 11 to 13 age range.

RESISTANCE Michael Thomas

“Petros’ war”, by Alki Zei, translated by Edward Fenton, Gollancz.