New York: By Vicki J. Yiannias
A celebration of the life and works of Antonis Samarakis was held at the Press and Communication Office of the Consulate General of Greece in New York on February16. Hosted by new Press Counsel Polyxeni Mastroperrou, the event was prompted by The Passport and Other Short Stories, a translation by Andrew Horton of eight short stories by the Athens-born Samarakis new from Cosmos Publishing.
Present at the tribute to share personal reminiscences of Samarakis and insights into his writings were Samarakisʼs widow, Eleni Samarakis, his nephew, Theodore Kourembanas, Vangelis Calotychos, Acting Director of the Program in Hellenic Studies at Columbia University, and Professor Horton.
“Samarakis teaches us to be resistant readers and resistant citizens,” said Dr. Calotychos, who opened the tribute, “a lesson that is as much applicable today as it was 30-40 years ago in Greece and elsewhere in darker ages. His writing certainly has not passed from our view even though some of the more obvious aspects of totalitarianism which he wrote against have receded, especially in countries like Greece,” Calotychos said of the man who, although he began writing poetry for literary magazines and anthologies at an early age and went on to write novels and short stories admired by Arthur Koestler, Arthur Miller, Graham Greene, George Simenon, Agatha Christie, Luis Bunuel, and others, never referred to himself as a writer.
Samarakis, who died in 2003 at the age of 83, studied law at Athens University, then worked as a civil servant in the labour ministry, resigning in 1936 when General Metaxas imposed a fascist-style dictatorship on Greece (he resumed his post in 1945). He was a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and organized an annual youth parliament in Greece. Samarakis represented Greece at conferences of Unesco and the International Labour Organization, and took part in their missions. He was awarded the Europalia Prize in 1982, and in 1991 was designated Greeceʼs cultural ambassador for Mèdecins sans Frontières,
“This is a time that would have benefited from Samarakisʼs presence and his writing” said Calotychos, “because he worked on issues of labor and immigration, burning issues in Greece and elsewhere as we face up to the displacements and dislocations and problems that go with globalization.”
Calotychos said that he is personally grateful for “the very youthful spirit of Samarakisʼs stories, which many times deal with young couples sharing their thoughts and their fears.” Not surprising, then were Theodore Kourembanasʼs memories of the youthful spirit and playful and affectionate nature of the writer himself, and Andrew Hortonʼs reminiscence that “with Antonis, there was never a time without laughter.”
Theodore Kourembanas stated that his uncle was not only a great writer but also a man who implemented his social beliefs, “proving that he really meant and believed what he wrote.” Kourembanas fondly remembers his uncle as “a very simple and cheerful person who liked very much to tease us, and whose company, in everyday life, was a real pleasure.”
Andrew Horton read Mama, one of the stories in The Passport and Other Short Stories about a motherʼs reaction to the death of her son in a mining accident, a reaction which, it was discussed in an audience question and answer period, probably represents the universal nature of motherhood.
Eleni Samarakis talked about the writing of that story, offering a glimpse of the writerʼs inner life. “When Antonis finished that story he came to read it to me and he was crying, very hard; he did not cry very often. He was very moved by this short story.”
She addressed the question, raised after the reading of Mama, of a comment once made by Samarakis that he did not know the end of his stories before he wrote them. “He always had many, many ideas. Sometimes it was an idea to start. Sometimes it was an idea to finish the short story or novel. He made the structure around this idea, whether it was in the beginning or whether it was in the end. In this short story the idea was the mother, first of all. He wanted to say that one mother has the same feelings for all the children.”
Once again bringing Samarakisʼs warm nature and his commitment to humanity, Mrs. Samarakis said, “He loved all the children very much. I would like to tell you he would be very happy tonight, with this book.
He would be very happy because he liked very much to communicate with people. It was the most important thing in his life – to communicate with human beings.”
It was not easy for her, said Mrs. Samarakis, in perhaps the eveningʼs most fitting tribute to Antonis Samarakis, “to be here without Antonis. It is not so easy for me.”