Interview with Greek author Giannis Makridakis
An interview with the renowned Greek author, Giannis Makridakis! This was part of an assignment designed for Advanced Modern Greek I and CYA Spring ’19 student Viviana Tsangaropoulos eagerly accepted the challenge. But, truth be told, the assignment was far more ambitious: Viviana read in Greek one of his most distinguished books (Anamisis Denekes), a crime story about immigration in the US and return to Greece, relocation and otherness; she prepared the questions for the interview; she did the interview itself and then she had to transliterate it into Greek and translate it into English.
The course’s instructor Dr. Eleni Fassa contacted the author and his publishers and they all responded enthusiastically. So, in April 2019 a meeting was arranged at the Hestia Publishing House where Viviana had the opportunity to interview Makridakis on issues regarding not only his books and literature, but, as you will read, politics, the Greek crisis, and even the modern conception of feminism (she is a political science major after all…). On top of this fascinating discussion, we had the chance to meet the editor and director of Hestia, Eva Karaitidi, and to have a guided tour in one of the oldest Publishing Houses in Greece and Europe.
The teaching of languages, ancient and modern, is usually confined to a classroom. At CYA we beg to differ. Learning in action and experiencing language in its manifold forms and aspects is our unwavering commitment.
I’ve read that you studied mathematics in college. How did you decide to become an author? Are mathematics and writing related?
I studied mathematics because I loved them and I wanted to become a mathematician. After I finished University and I started working as a math tutor, I realized I didn’t feel fulfilled with my job and I wanted to do something else. Slowly I realized I wanted to do anthropological research which was not a profession in Greece at this point (1997). I was trying to find something that interested me and it simply did not exist. I started with a tape recorder and a camera and walked around Chios and did small interviews with the natives. I wanted to understand the history of Chios through these interviews. After 8-10 years of doing this, it drove me towards writing. I wrote a few books and entered the world of literature without knowing this research would be taking me there.
I am currently reading your book, “Anamisis Ntenekes” and I am finding the dialect of Chios beautiful but difficult to read, give my first language is not Greek. Was it easy for you to write in this dialect? You grew up in Chios but moved away. Is it difficult for someone to write in a dialect when the common language is something else?
The Chios dialect is what I grew up with so it was not difficult to write in. It comes out of me naturally. It must be difficult to write in this dialect if the common, mainstream language is different. I do not have much contact with television, so I was not influenced by modern Greek as much as others may have been. In art, you express yourself how you feel.
The heroes in your novels are mostly men. Why?
I’m psychoanalyzing this question and thinking it through. I have written women characters but many of my characters are men. Most likely because I am more comfortable and familiar with the male brain and way of thinking. However, I have interacted with many older women in Chios, most around my mother’s age, and they were the most influential women in my life so I understand their way of thinking. I think that women are superior to men in the development of emotions and thinking. I’d like to write more female characters.
Do you think that the cultivation of the Earth can help get Greece out of the crisis?
I think that the cultivation of the earth and human interaction with the Earth is a basic step for humans to have free thought and to be one with nature. I don’t think that everyone needs to rely on the cultivation of the earth but I think that it is a balance you must achieve and we have forgotten about it. We have forgotten the basics and I think that the earth centers you in a mental way. I think the cultivation of the Earth is important for humans and their emotional development.
What is your opinion of the crisis? Do you think it can be solved?
The crisis is cultural. We are currently living in a capitalistic society and it all leads to destruction. Because capitalism leads to destruction, the first sign of that destruction that we see is the economy. If our attention was on the earth, we would see that the environment is also being destroyed. So the crisis is not necessarily economic, but cultural and found in all realms of our society. We need to change our perspective and instead of looking just at the economy, we must also direct our attention to the environment and take care of it. If we all stopped taking advantage of the environment and wasting energy, we could allow the earth to take a deep breath and I believe it would positively affect the economy as well.
I know that you live in Chios. Chios is one of the islands that has taken in a large number of refugees. Have you spoken to them? Are you interested in them? Have you helped them?
Yes, Chios has accepted many refugees during the refugee crisis. I was and I am close to the refugees. I hosted a Syrian family in my home during the winter. We are all people and everyone may end up in a difficult time in their lives and everyone has the right to ask for help. I was involved on the topic of immigration as a researcher because I first researched refugees of Chios that had fled during WWII. The pattern of immigration was the exact opposite as it is now in that in 1941, people from Chios were fleeing to the area of Syria and now they are coming from Syria to Chios. This tells you that you could easily be in a similar situation at any moment and that you must acknowledge the refugees and interact with them with empathy and understanding.
Do you vote in the elections?
Yes, I vote in the elections. I am not someone who doesn’t vote because I want to dismantle the system. I vote because of my background in mathematics and it makes sense to me. You don’t vote to give others the responsibility. Every day, I work to be an active citizen because to vote is not enough. You must show your politics and be active in them every day. To be close to people, to take a seat and show my opinion is important.
There has been a rise of neo-Fascism in Europe. Why do you think this has happened? Do you believe that the financial and refugee crises have contributed to this?
The period we are living in now shows us that when in the lead up to WWII, fascism was not sudden, but there was a development over time as there is now. And capitalist crises cause discontent in the public which leads to support for extremist. This is how nature works. If you put chickens in a coop and have a specific kind of corn for them to eat and then you throw in another five chickens, the old chickens will attack the new ones. This is what happens with all animals: they protect their home and their food. Even humans do the same. Though there is a difference with humans because we are more intelligent, we are able to think critically. But yes, there has been a rise in fascism because of the economic crisis. Unintelligent people come out and become politicians and create fascist movements. Unfortunately, humankind may have the memory of a goldfish and has forgotten WWII. But I hope that we haven’t and that we will not let fascism rise again. Now there are different ways to communicate among ourselves as well. I hope that we will not let fascism rise again.
Editor & director of Hestia Publishing House Eva Karaitidi, CYA professor Dr. Eleni Fassa, Giannis Makridakis, and CYA Sp ’19 student Viviana Tsangaropoulos (left to right)