Society's violence begins in the home
Author John Charalambous talks to Neos Kosmos about his new novel Two Greeks
The novel Two Greeks by the Anglo-Greek author John Charalambous deals with the age old problem of how a parents' behaviour affects the lives of their children. Like most authors of fiction, Charalambous' material comes from personal experience.
"Yes, I have drawn from my own family experience, but I realised that there wasn't really a story there, so most of it (the novel) is invented," he said. Like the 10 year-old narrator in Two Greeks, he himself has a Cypriot Father and an Anglo-Australian mother. Two Greeks is set in suburban Melbourne, focusing on a Cypriot migrant Haralambous Stylianou, his Australian wife and their two children, Angela and Andy.
Like all family stories it is axiomatic of the famous opening line of Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." In Two Greeks, the story concerns itself with the ramifications of a domineering father.
"Harry, the father, has grown up during WWII and the whole atmosphere of his world is permeated by war and violence and so war is his default position and that's how he understands the world. It's a constant veneer, a constant battle," said Charalambous, adding that war seeps into Harry's family. "He can't imagine a world of equality; it's a racist world, a colonial world. He comes to Australia and he lives out those values. His son who is brought up in Australia in the '70s is exposed to different values and his life is sheltered compared to where Harry comes from."
Two Greeks is not just about the typical consequences of the 'sins and father', or the difference between the troubles of the old Europe compared to a relatively uncomplicated new society like Australia. The subtext goes deeper into the psychology of the two parents and how a masculine and feminine perspective can differ. While in Europe the patriarchal method is the default, in Australia the feminine perspective is more likely to be utilised.
"I was thinking of the difference between father culture and mother culture. That is idiosyncratic because my background was like that. Harry believes that the only way to get things done is to boss people around, but in Australia that is usually not acceptable."
But Australia's history is not free of draconian methodologies considering its convict background. The argument being that prison culture, where no one can rise above his or her station, may have indeed created its tall poppy syndrome. "Well, yes, but I think in the late '60s and more in the '70s there was a change from children being subjected to corporeal punishment, which for me is a reflection of world conflict, and the whole idea that you solve problems with violence, and moving towards a more enlightened outlook where equality is possible; an equality of the sexes started to occur, an equality of opportunities through work and growth of a female culture."
Charalambous is a writer of fiction and so his primary impulse is to write a rollicking story that will hold your imagination. This story also deals with an imagination running wild in the 10 year-old boy that may eventually lead to murder. No writer of quality fiction doesn't have some kind of ideological message to deliver. "If I had to sum up, I'd say that domination is across the board in our society," Charalambous said.
"It's a Greek story, but it could be about any family of any ethnic or class background and that individuals are reflections of what's happening in society. People play out their frustrations and their anxieties in their family. Domestic domination or violence is, for me, symptomatic about what happens society wise."
Two Greeks (paperback) is published by UQP and retails for $24.95.
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