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Loukis Akritas: Νέος με καλάς συστάσεις (Young Man Seeks Position: Good References)

This is an autobiographical novel, telling of Akritas’ own problems in getting a job in 1930s Athens. The unnamed narrator lives in Cyprus with his family and he has a girlfriend, Tela. However, he decides he wants to make his living in journalism and goes off to Athens with a small amount of money and two letters of recommendation to newspaper editors. He initially shares a room with Takis, a medical student whom he already knows. It is through Takis that get gets to know Tamanis. However, his first task is to take the letters of recommendation to the editors. The result is not promising. They are pleasant but have nothing at the moment and suggest he tries in a month or two. He will continue to do so. Tamanis works for an encyclopedia that publishes in installments. He is currently writing an article on the Cypriot dialect of Greek and hopes to turn it into something more substantial and perhaps make a career as a professor of Greek. Tamanis eventually gets our narrator a job with the encyclopedia.

As our narrator speaks English, his first job is to produce an article on the poet John Keats, much of which he takes from an English-language encyclopaedia. However this article is heavily edited and heavily criticised and he is unable to get a permanent job at the encyclopedia. His colleagues are not friendly, fearing that he might get some of the better jobs at their expense (they are paid by the line). Later on, he will learn that they have deliberately sabotaged his efforts. He does manage to get articles published in a newspaper but that also leads to nothing. Eventually, he will leave the encyclopedia. Meanwhile, he has moved in with Kostiris, a young man who is having difficulties with his girlfriend, Vivi. She got pregnant and he persuaded her to have an abortion, which was illegal in Greece. The police are pursuing the matter. Kostiris will eventually run away.

Without friends – he has fallen out with Tamanis – and without work, he struggles. Much the most interesting part of the book is how he tries to cope, limiting his eating, his shoes splitting, selling off first his possessions and then Kotiris’. He struggles to find employment but everything seems to go wrong. He hopes to get a job as a bookkeeper but does not have the necessary skills. He is offered a job as a translator but cannot cope with the technical terms. When a warehouseman job becomes available, as the incumbent had been fired, he hopes to get that but the incumbent pleads with the boss that he and his family will starve without the job and he gets a reprieve at the narrator’s expense. Finally, the inevitable happens and he collapses and ends up in hospital. It is a fairly straightforward story but very well told and while we have seen other novels about the struggles and hunger when unable to find a job, this is still an interesting addition to that literature.

Publishing history

First published by Pirsos in 1935
First English translation by Diaspora in 1993
Translated by Margaret Deyes and Maria Roussou