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Costas Montis: Ο αφέντης Μπατίστας και τ’ άλλα (Afentis Batistas)
This is partially an autobiographical novel by Montis of growing up in Cyprus, with both a nostalgic look at the Cyprus of the past as well as the problems that occurred both in his family and after the Turkish invasion of 1974. It is also a tribute to Montis’ ancestors, in particular two of them, the eponymous afentis Batistas (afentis is a title, roughly equivalent to lord or master – note that the Greek title is Afentis Batistas and the Other Things) and his ancestor, nicknamed Turkobatistas. We learn of young Montis’ growing up, particularly the influence of his two older brothers, both of whom died while he was still a child. The older of the two, Yiorgos, would protect him and fight off anyone who threatened him.
However, there is one other person who influenced him in the family home, besides his parents, namely his grandmother. She lived in a darkened room but every day the children would greet her. The family had been rich but had fallen on hard times and she felt that she was a burden on the family. However, she would tell tales of her ancestors, particularly her great grandfather, afentis Batistas, who was a tough but fair estate-owner. Grandmother would recount tales of how he was afraid of no-one and stood up for those of Greek origin. We also learn – from the author’s own researches – of another potential ancestor, Turkobatistas. He too was an estate owner, a Greek/Venetian, but when the Turks took over, presumably in the 1571 invasion, Turkobatistas feels that he has to convert, which he does (hence his nickname). The Greek priest and others are perturbed, as is Turkobatistas’ wife, particularly when their son has to wear a fez, when he turns sixteen. Montis tells a wonderful story of the various adaptations and changes on both sides, which do not end particularly happily.
As well as these stories, Montis tells us, often through his grandmother, other stories of life in Cyprus and of life under the Turks. We learn that many of the Greeks, were originally Venetians who became Greek, as there was less risk from the Turks at the time. We also learn of the many compromises both sides had to make and the many problems caused by the conflicts between the two nationalities. It is a well-told story (or set of stories) evoking a time and place that have passed but also showing the problems that the Cypriots faced over the centuries and how they adapted.
First published by Ermis in 1980
First English translation by Feather Star Publishing, Dayton, Ohio
Translated by Stalo Monti-Pouagare