American Ikaros

Feature by Willard Manus

Roger Jinkinson attempts to dissect the soul of Kevin Andrews in his new book, AMERICAN IKAROS.

Andrews, the American-born author of two outstanding books on Greece--The Castles of Mora and The Flight of Ikaros--is a challenging subject for a biography, simply because he was such a paradoxical human being, an enigma really.

In his youth Andrews was a golden boy: strong, handsome, bubbling over with joie de vivre. The child of famous, adventurous parents, he grew up in wealthy, aristocratic circles; was educated at Ivy League schools; joined the army in 1943 and won a Bronze Star for his bravery in battle. But it didn't take long for his romantic, glowing image to become tarnished. He developed epilepsy as an adult, often suffering as many as ten or fifteen mini-seizures a day. Depression began to plague him as well, followed by fits of anger and violence that repelled many of his friends and loved ones. Self-pity and bitterness gnawed at him too, so badly that he became withdrawn and reclusive in later years.

How to reconcile the contradictory sides of his character? How to peel back the many layers of his personality and get to the essence, the truth, of the man?

Jinkinson takes on these challenges in his biographical study of Kevin Andrews. A Brit who gave up an academic career to go and live on a Greek island, Jinkinson never knew Andrews but he not only greatly admired him as a writer and person but shared some affinities with him. Both men came from dysfunctional families and had a mother who was mentally ill. "I fled from home as soon as I could," Jinkinson confides. "Kevin never managed to break away. He was a sick man with neurological and psychological problems."
After wandering across a large part of the globe, Jinkinson found his way in the 1980s to the Aegean island of Karpathos. In the village of Diafani he discovered that he was walking in the footsteps of Kevin Andrews, who had preceded him there by two decades.

"He stayed in Diafani and made friends with the villagers," Jininson observes. "He was here before the roads came and before the harbor was built. Sometimes he came by ferry, sometimes by caique. He was always alone except, once, with his daughter.
"His Greek was so good he could write mantinades, rhyming couplets still composed for name days, celebrations and festivals...Walking round the island Kevin wore an indigo cotton shirt of the kind that used to be made and worn locally.

Sometimes while he rested he played a flogera, a shepherd's flute. This was a strange sound to the villagers, because the instrument is not indigenous to this part of Greece. But they liked the piping music...Keven was physically attractive and people referred to him as a palikari (a brave man or warrior)."

The more Jinkinson learned about Andrews, the more he wanted to write about him. AMERICAN IKAROS was three years in the researching and composing. "My goal was to tell something of Kevin's story, to describe him and maybe explain him. In the main, I have used his own words and those of the people who knew him."

Jinkinson has done his job well. His research is thorough and impressive. He neither distorts nor sensationalizes Andrews' colorful but flawed life. Nor does he try and exaggerate his own accomplishments; he knows that he must play second fiddle to his subject.

The most appealing parts of AMERICAN IKAROS are those which deal with Andrews' early years in Greece. He first went there in 1947, when the Greek civil war was still raging. As Jinkinson remarks, "Kevin became, as one friend said, drunk on the place."
Andrews came to love, above all, Greece's mountains and rural areas, its shepherds, peasants and village folk. He traveled mostly on foot, sometimes dressed in a foustanella (Greek kilt), filling one notebook after another with his impressions of the land and its people. These jottings eventually became the source material for The Castles of Morea and The Flight of Ikaros.

The latter book, Andrews' masterpiece, was first published in the UK in 1959. A revised and improved edition was brought out by Penguin in 1981. Here is a sample from it, Keven Andrews writing about the Greek landscape:

"The eyes ached at noonday in the fields where the freighted vines cracked under foot and their leaves hung withered, and the black grapes lay rich and hot over the parched clay, unpicked."
And here is what the distinguished British author Patrick Leigh Fermor said about Kevin Andrews: "His writings stand completely on their own and they are neglected at peril by anyone concerned with contemporary Greece."

Andrews wrote two other books during his lifetime (he died in 1989): Greece In the Dark and Athens Alive. He also published numerous political essays and attempted to write a novel, variously titled The Jumbles and The Old Rising Sun. The novel nearly proved his undoing. Beset by writer's block (perhaps brought on by the powerful depressants he took for his epilepsy), Andrews struggled with the manuscript for three decades. Ultimately, he decided to abandon it.

As Jinkinson comments, "He floundered, blaming his mother, his wife and his home life and ended up with little to show for the hours spent."

As another perceptive critic has said, "In his writing where is a hero or heroes who seizes hold of our imagination?" The critic then pointed to the heart of the matter: "Whom did Kevin truly care for, who mattered more than himself to him? And the answer is simple: Kevin could only observe and write about Greece and the Greeks."

By this time Andrews was deep into his dark, self-destructive later years (some of his close friends thought he was mad). His epilepsy worsened, he fought with his wife Nancy (daughter of the poet E.E. Cummings), abused and then abandoned his children, exhibited bizarre behavior.

As a friend said, "He went from happy to sad in five seconds." At the same time--and here is the paradox that makes pigeonholing a man like him so difficult, even treacherous--Kevin Andrews was also doing courageous things with his life, a case in point being the principled stand he took against the Junta when it seized power in Greece in 1967.

Andrews wrote many brave and important articles against the fascist regime--the pieces (published abroad) are some of the best things he ever did. He also risked his life attempting to aid the embattled student protestors at the Athens Polytechnic; he was badly beaten by the police and slapped into jail.

Later, after the fall of the Junta in 1974, Andrews renounced his American citizenship because of his country's complicity in the brutal military takeover of Greece.

Andrews died while swimming in stormy seas off the coast of Kythera, a small rocky island on the southern tip of the Peloponnese. He had been warned by the locals not to venture out into the Force Seven seas. But Andrews, a powerful swimmer who had often braved rough weather on his marathon-like swims--some of which lasted two or three hours--set off anyway for the islet of Avgo (thought to be the birthplace of Aphroditi). The round trip amounted to an 8-kilometer swim.

He never made it back. Had he brought about his own death by setting off for Avgo? Had he committed suicide out there? Or had he simply suffered a crippling epileptic attack? A heart attack?
We'll never know the answers to those questions. Andrews' body was recovered two days later, but no autopsy was performed on it. The mysterious circumstances of his demise mirrored the many strange, puzzling things about the man himself.

Only one thing is certain: what a bold, vibrant writer Andrews was, especially when dealing with Greece. As Pavlos Zannas of the Society of Authors said in a eulogy when Andrews was interred in Athens' First Cemetery (in the upper tier, reserved for such heroic figures as George Seferis and Melina Mercouri), "He was not, like so many others, merely a philhellene: he was a Greek even before he tried to secure his Greek citizenship. He was a Greek author."

This, then, was the man whose life Jinkinson has re-created for us, trying at the same time to plumb the depths of his soul and extract the essence of his identity. In this he has failed, but honorably. As Jinkinson admits in an epilogue, Andrews remains "an indistinct figure on a wooded slope." Which is why he has subtitled his book, "The Search for Kevin Andrews."

It is a search that will never end.

AMERICAN IKAROS is available from Amazon at a cost of US $25.15. For signed copies contact