Saturday, January 7, 2012

Someone Else's War

Someone Else's War blends documentary evidence with imagination in bringing Stambolis to life, but even without the fictional darning the facts of her story are extraordinary enough. Born illegitimate in 1904, she was reared by an independent-minded seamstress who served the Greek royal family. Despite a good education and hopes for university, at 17 she married Michael, 15 years her senior and living in Australia. Coming with him to his fish shop in Sydney's Pyrmont she gave birth to a succession of children including Kafcaloudes's mother, Nellie.

But the relationship proved problematic, partly because of personal tragedies and partly because of a frustration within Olga, who craved a broader, more vivid canvas than the deep-fat fryer existence she had bought into through marriage. For reasons that are revealed later in the book, Olga left her family in 1936 and moved to Athens.

The novel-based-on-fact path is never a totally felicitous one as most people are doggedly devoted to distinguishing truth from fiction. Kafcaloudes manages this obstacle-strewn journey admirably in most instances, signalling direct quotations from the diary clearly and embroidering soberly in a tone that blends well with the older voice. While the truth within these highly dramatic and heart-stopping fragments may not always be verifiable from other sources, they form a narrative that Olga was determined to record for an unknown posterity.

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