|BONES IN THE SEA--TIME APART ON A GREEK ISLAND|
REVIEW by Willard Manus
It was Lawrence Durrell who coined the word "islomaniacs" to describe people who are drawn, sometimes against their will, to spend time apart on some island in the sea. Only another islomaniac could understand the power islands can exert on the mind and heart of man, the way they can stir up feelings of love, contentment and belonging.
Andrew Horton is just such an islomaniac. Teacher, critic, screenwriter, Horton is a man of many talents, a person whose work has taken him to numerous places around the world. But always, when he can, he returns to his true home, the place he cares for most--the Greek island of Kea, in a far corner of the Cyclades.
Now Horton has written a book about Kea (Bones in the Sea, $7.95, 156 pages, published and distributed by Smyrna Press, Box 1151, Union City, N.J.), an island he first discovered in 1966, when he was twenty-one. As he writes, "I was fresh out of college with a degree in literature and about to try out my first teaching job. Viet Nam was turning ugly, Bob Kennedy and Martin Luther King had yet to die and the Beatles' music had taken Greece by storm while Greeks were much more reserved about the international subculture of drugs, sex, rock 'n roll under Aegean sunshine that was developing on the islands."
Flash forward twenty-one years. Horton, now married (for the second time; his first wife was an Athenian Greek) and the father of a two-year-old son, returns to Kea on a six-month sabbatical from his university position in New Orleans. Bones in the Sea is the result of that prolonged stay on the island, in the mountain village of Chora where friends had found him a small, newly finished--well, half-finished--house.
The house lacked
a few doors and windows, not to speak of a pull-plug toilet, but the Hortons
not only stuck it out but made light of it, proving themselves to be the
opposite of the usual Ugly American tourist prototypes. Thanks to his
knowledge of Greek (he has taught in Athens, translated Greek plays and
poetry, written a book on the film director Angelopoulos). Horton was
able to connect with, and to understand, the islanders in an intimate
fashion few foreigners are lucky enough to achieve.
Down through the ages, the Keans have always been known as a reserved people. As Horton notes, "even Aristophanes in one play states a character should act 'not like someone from Chios but from Keos (the ancient name for Kea).'" This, however, was taking reserve to a ridiculous end. It wasn't until morning, though, that he could fathom the reason for this mysterious turn of events.
It turned out that because the village's musicians had opted to play, for more money, at a seaside disco that night, the people of Hora had registered their disapproval by refusing to dance to the tunes of outside musicians. The local band's "betrayal" was cause for the villagers to reign in their spirits.
Bones in the Sea is full of such revealing details. Written in impressionistic rather than linear fashion--the author likens his technique to an offering of pikelea, the small plate of appetizers served with drinks in a Greek cafe. "The book took its own shape and logic and rhythm, surprising me time and again, and insisting on fictional elements to be woven in with and among actual happenings. Neither diary nor novel, screenplay nor sociological study nor autobiography, it is truly an offering of pikalea."
Bones in the Sea is above all a finely observed and deeply felt portrait of the island of Kea. It is packed with strong characters: not just the Hortons themselves but such representative islanders as Yannis the storeowner, Argiris the tavernakeeper, and two 70-year-old sisters, Poppy and Armarande, the epitome of Greek warmth, intelligence and hospitality.
The book also benefits from the pen and ink illustrations of Lisa Rose and Lou Efstathiou.