Sorry Mr. Vassilis Alexakis…

Your book, Apr. JC., looked quite promising, but I just couldn’t finish it. I took it because I heard you on the radio and you seemed quite a nice person. You have a Greek accent when speaking French, that makes me dream of islets on the Mediterranean and of villages drenched in sun. I know it’s a cliché, so I thought that reading your book would let me understand Greece beyond all these tourist-trap clichés. You explained on the radio that you wanted to write a book on Mount Athos, because you were fascinated by the power of Orthodox monks in contemporary Greek society (I’m paraphrasing and hope I don’t distort what you meant). I too find Mount Athos quite a mysterious subject, if only because it’s been independent from the rest of Greece and closed to women for centuries (oh, not only women, but all female creatures except female cats and hens) and so it’s definitely a place that will remain off-limits to me.

I was intrigued by what you said about monks owning a lot of land and buildings all over Greece, despite looking poor and scruffy, having outrageous privileges and being fanatical against the other, older spiritual Greek influence, namely the Antiquity philosophers and polytheists. I was appalled by the scene in your book when a monk defaced an Antique statue because it’s not the true God… not sure if it’s fact or fiction but it really drove your point home to me. I was appalled when you explained how monks compromised themselves with Nazis, then communists when Nazis were defeated, all for the sake of keeping their privileges. I then read an interview of you after you received a prestigious literary prize for this book, where you said that you had to change your phone line in Greece after the book’s publication, to avoid “problems”. I think you did a courageous investigation and a tribute to Ancient Greece, but…

But somehow it didn’t really work as a novel for me. I wasn’t pulled in by the story (a thesis student investigating Mount Athos because her 80 years old landlady asks him to) and the pace was way too leisurely for me. The main character spends too much time drinking raki and flirting with university students for my taste, and when I reached the middle of the book, [spoiler beware] you implied that there was an acceleration of time or some other sci-fi ploy and… ka-boom, it wasn’t fun anymore. You see, your book didn’t come at the right moment for me: I’m a busy working mother, and I can’t do leisurely. I need pace, action, movement, otherwise your book will lose in the everyday dilemma “read or sleep?”. If your book can wait a few years till I won’t be chronically sleep-deprived anymore, I guess it’ll stand a better chance… After all, the monks on Mount Athos have been waiting for centuries…

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