The Fratricides by the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis recounts the tragic violence that swallowed the Greek countryside in the civil war of the late 1940s. Castello, a village in Epirus is not spared all the death and destruction which culminated during the Holy Week.
Stark and ashen, the houses were barren, stone piled on stone, their doors so low one had to stoop to enter – and within was darkness. The courtyards smelled of horse manure, goat droppings, and the heavy stench of man. Not a single house had a tree in its courtyard, or a songbird in a cage, or a flowerpot in the window, with perhaps a root of basil or a red carnation; everywhere, only stone upon stone. And the souls who lived within these stones were hard and inhospitable. Mountains, houses, people – they were all granite. (p.1)
The village is a place hardened by war and colored only by blood. Soldiers garrisoned in the village commit atrocities against the families of the rebels and other perceived enemies. The guerrillas retaliate with equal ferocity.
Meanwhile, Father Yanaros, the novel’s central character, fruitlessly preaches love, peace, and brotherhood from the pulpit and the neighboring villages but is rebuked by the blackhoods as a traitor and a Bolshevik while the redhoods derided him as an impostor and a fascist.
Learning of the rebels’ plan to raze the village to the ground on the eve before Easter Sunday, Father Yanaros decided to offer the surrender of the village to Captain Drakos, the leader of the rebels (who is also his son), in exchange for an end to the bloodshed.
It does not take much to predict the conclusion. But it would be interesting to note the following discussion between Captain Drakos and his second in command:
“I’m amazed that you joined the party, Captain,” said Loukas between his teeth. “In the party one obeys without questions.”
“I refuse to free others unless I myself am free,” Drakos replied dryly, his lips twisting with bitterness. “Our duty is to bring justice first and then freedom. That’s what I did in every village I entered; I cannot remain silent when I see injustice. The first thing I do is to bring order and justice.”
“The true communist does not falter when he sees injustice; he accepts it if that injustice helps our cause; everything is for the cause – everything for victory!”
“That’s going to be our downfall!” Drakos shot back, infuriated. “That’s going to be our downfall. So the end justifies the means, does it? We should go ahead with injustice to reach justice, eh? We should go on with slavery to reach freedom? I hate to say this, but that attitude is going to destroy the cause. It hasn’t been very long since I began to realize that if the means we use to reach our goal are dishonest, our cause becomes dishonest. Because the cause is not a piece of fruit that hangs ripe and ready at the end of the road for us to pick; no, no, never! The cause is a fruit that ripens with each deed, that takes the dignity or the vulgarity of each of our deeds. The path we take will give the shape and flavor and taste to the fruit, and fill it with either honey or poison. If we stay on the road we’ve taken, we’re going to the devil and so will the party…” (p.235)
They ultimately lost the Greek Civil War.
The Fratricides deals with socio-political and religious issues that resonates until today. Kazantazakis also wrote, among others, The Last Temptation of Christ and Zorba the Greek. He narrowly lost the Nobel Prize for Literature by one vote to Albert Camus in 1957. ■