Review: Good Will Come From The Sea – Christos Ikonomou

Greek island view - Santorini

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A collection of four loosely-connected stories, Christos Ikonomou’s Good Will Come From the Sea (Archipelago Books, translated by Karen Emmerich) explores life on an un-named Greek island, following the imposition of austerity measures associated with the eurozone bailout. In a country where poverty affects almost everyone, internal divisions are bound to appear, and these fractured relationships are prominent in the book.

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In “I’ll Swallow Your Dreams”, Tasos dreams of a community that supports itself, through locally grown produce, locally sourced materials and labour, and locally enforced taxes against the wealthy who exploit the island. Local mobster, Xellinakis, however, disagrees and sends his goons to remind Tasos that his ideas, brought with him from Athens when life there became too difficult to maintain, were not welcome on the island. In “Kites in July”, Stavros and Artemis’ dreams of opening a taverna in a family building are shattered (like Tasos’ teeth, when the goons tie him to the bonnet of a car and take him through the car wash) when the building is burned to the ground. There is a clear demarcation between the Athenian “foreigners” and the local “rats” that prevents them from working together to make the most of the dire situation they all share.

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In addition to the distinction between the island locals and the recent internal migrants, there remains a distinction between the majority, who are struggling to remain afloat financially, and the wealthy businessmen whom Tasos rails against. Tasos sets himself against them, at his own peril, but in the title story “Good Will Come From the Sea”, Lazaros advises his son, Petros, to take a different path, pushing him toward employment as the chauffeur of a member of the wealthy Drakakis family. When Petros disappears, however, it seems that there is no positive outcome for the poor when they come into contact with the rich.

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Ikonomou’s descriptions of the country feel bleak. There is no sense of the whitewashed walls and uplifting blue accents of the tourist mecca, Santorini, in this landscape. In two of the stories, it is the darkness of a cave that is the defining feature of the landscape, with both Tasos and Petros disappearing within them. Despite this darkness though, the physical features of the island also hold promise for a brighter future. The book’s title suggests that the island, surrounded by the sea, will one day prosper again, and Lazaros’ despair at spending the night scouring the caves in search of his son, is tempered by a sunrise that breaks at his darkest moment.

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Ultimately, there is courage in these stories. Despite overwhelming odds, and desperation that at times appears insurmountable, life, for most of the characters, goes on. In “Kill the German”, Christos, like the rest of his village, is aware of the abuse that his neighbour is perpetrating against a young girl and feels powerless to stop it. Distrustful of the authorities, and wheelchair-bound, he faces more impediments to action than most, but nonetheless goes to extreme lengths in an attempt to prevent further harm to the girl. Stavros and Artemis, sitting amongst the charred remainders of their dreams, look to the future, and the narrator of Tasos’ story even considers that there might have been something to the message he was trying to preach.

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A book that goes to the heart of Greece’s economic collapse, Good Will Come From the Sea depicts the experience of poverty for people who have seen better days and are frustrated, angry, and afraid that they may never return to the means they previously enjoyed. At times dark and tortured, at others hopeful and inspired, this book provides a unique exploration of modern Greece that reminds us that the impact of austerity remains far longer, and cuts more deeply, than the ever-changing news cycle would suggest.

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Thanks to Archipelago Books for providing an advance copy of Good Will Come From the Sea for review. It is now publicly available for purchase.

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