Letters from the Great War
Life in the Tomb Stratis Myrivilis
Translation Peter Bien
Stratis Myrivilis’ masterwork Life in the Tomb presents the personal experience of war with precision, respect and exasperation, in a voice that is both introspectively poetic and harsh.
The most successful and most widely-read serious novel in Greece since the First World War.
In his youth Stratis Myrivilis volunteered to fight in the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, was a reservist in World War I and took part in the military campaign in Anatolia in 1921 and 1922.
Life in the Tomb grew out of his extensive experience of war, derived in part from his diaries. The novel first appeared in serial form on the island of Lesbos during the early 1920s, but in 1930 a revised and expanded edition was published in Athens where it met with immediate success. His novel has remained a favourite among Greek readers.
In brief chapters presented as letters to his beloved, Sergeant Andonis Kostulas offers personal accounts of his war experiences in which the traditional heroic morals and propaganda soon unravel. ‘In sum, that lunacy of the Greeks, impetuosity, is a defect here. What we are dealing with this time is a subterranean war,’ writes the protagonist. Ideas and metaphysics collapse. Life is a question of flesh and blood. His proximity to death brings the sergeant to a recognition of the exuberant force of life.
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