Walls can come in many forms. In his debut (2001) novel, Four Walls, Greek author Vangelis Hatziyannidis has written a story that encompasses walls in all their many guises.
E. Rodakis is the son of the famous honey maker S. Rodakis. After his father's death, Rodakis follows his dream of traveling, only to return to his childhood home on a small Greek island. He lives a solitary life. surrounded by his father's books and family possessions. His quiet life is disturbed when the village priest requests that he allows a stranger to take refuge in his home. The beaten and lame woman, Vaya, arrives and takes up residence in his house. At first it is difficult for Rodakis, a man who wants none of his possessions moved an inch, to adapt to this situation. But as he becomes more accustomed to the woman's presence, he and Vaya come to an understanding. With Vaya feeling safe from her past behind the walls of his home, Rodakis becomes aware of Rosa, her secret daughter she has kept hidden in a trunk. A family of sorts, Rodakis, Vaya and Rosa, emerges based only on proximity and familiarity. It is the decision to attempt a re-entry into the honey making business that solidifies their relationship. Vaya leads their quest for the ideal combination of plants that will meld into the perfect honey. She succeeds and their honey becomes known far and wide; it is a delicacy sold for riches. Called "Anglico"- made by angels- it attracts the attentions of those who wish to own the secret recipe for themselves. As Vaya finds herself drawn to explore the world outside of the estate, so the world begins to find its way inside the estate, to change their lives forever.
Rodakis is trapped in a world of his own making, the four walls of his house, walled in by his possessions and then walled in by the morals of society. His emotional and spiritual walls give way to physical as the world intrudes into his honey making secrets. When both Vaya and Rodakis go missing, Rosa is forced to leave the estate. She must leave the only home she has ever known, to seek out a father she did not know existed. It is there that she discovers that the perimeters of her unusual upbringing are considered horribly wrong by others. She retreats behind her bedroom walls where she feels comfortable and safe from a world whose boundaries she does not understand.
Four Walls is able to be both a rousing good story with ample doses of violence, tension and sex while also being a serious study of the affect of both physical and hidden walls on the human spirit. As the book begins the narrator wanders between past and present, interspersing the story with anecdotes from the past in seemingly random sequence. This is a difficult feat to maintain within the direction of the plot but it is one that Hatziyannidis manages superbly. Part of the intrigue is to watch all the various pieces of the past wander back into the story at various points, to sit there and say "told you I belonged" to the reader. It is a book of subtleties and surprises, a slim book that tells the story of a saga.
This has been translated from Greek by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife, a teacher and translator who currently lives in Athens
Thsi book will be available September 18, 2006. We can now also look forward to Hatziyannidis' next novel "Stolen Time" to be available through Marion Boyer's Publishing January 2007. In it he continues his exploration of how people react when imprisoned behind walls.