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Dido Sotiriou: Ματωμενα Χωματα (Farewell, Anatolia)

The book is narrated by Manolis Axiotis, a young Greek man living in the village of Kirkica (now Şirince), near Ephesus, in what is now Turkey, prior to the First World War. He came from a large family (fourteen children) and life was, till 1914, idyllic for them. They spoke Turkish, though no Turks lived in the village. They get on well with the Turks but look down on them, as the Turks are less educated, have no doctors or teachers and are exploited by the local landowners. As Manolis is the smart one, his father sends him to Smyrna to learn the ways of the traders, who are always outsmarting the farmers. He works in a store but soon sees that the owner cheats the poor peasants, as his own father has been cheated, and he leaves. He finds work with an inn-keeper, who is also a smuggler, but, as his father disapproves, goes to work for another store owner.

When war breaks out, Manolis’ brothers are recruited, though one manages to desert to Greece. Manolis is recruited to a Turkish labour battalion, as Greeks cannot be trusted to fight for Turkey. He works for a kindly Turkish farmer but when he sees Armenians being slaughtered, he decides to flee. He is recaptured, imprisoned, almost executed and then joins the Greek army when it enters their village. But life in the Greek army is also hard as they are beaten by the Turks. He ends up in Smyrna as first the Greeks try to do some ethnic cleansing and then the Turks slaughter those Greeks and Armenians who cannot escape. He and his friends manage to escape to Greece, leaving behind Anatolia forever. Sotiriou tells a gripping story and one which might not be too familiar to English-speaking readers (though Louis de BernièresBirds Without Wings covers much of the same story, albeit from a somewhat different perspective).

Publishing history

First published 1962 by Kedros, Athens
First English translation 1996 by Kedros, Athens