About Zorz Sarri and her books about the village of Vagia
In my previous article about the village of Vagia where I live on Aegina island, I referred to the novel entitled Ta Stena Papoutsia* (The Tight Shoes) written by Zorz Sarri - Ζωρζ Σαρή . Ta Stena Papoutsia, her fifth book, like her first, O Thisavros tis Vagias** (The Treasure of Vagia) is set in the village of Vagia, during the 1930s, where Sarri spent some of her childhood summers. She is one of the most important modern Greek authors of children's literature.
Ta Stena Papoutsia
Ta Stena Papoutsia
is narrated by a childhood playmate of Sarri - Panagiotis-- one of the children in a Greek family whose house Sarri's parents rented during several summers during the 1930s, when the village consisted of only six houses. Many families in the Vagia - Mesagros area of Aegina island, (the main villages in its northeast corner) - have the same name as the family in whose house Sarri stayed: Chaldeos. The Vagia described by the 12-year old boy, Panagiotis, is not difficult to imagine for one who lives here now. The house where Sarri and her sister stayed in the 30s still stands, though abandoned and falling into ruin.
In this wonderful book, though young Panagiotis Chaldeos longs to leave the village and the island for the wonders of Piraeus and Athens, as well for studies leading to a career as a school teacher, he also loves his village, and paints a picture of a true paradise on earth in his descriptions of both vegetable gardens, where well water ran in irrigation channels (though plant cultivation without water was described to me by others in the area), of vineyards and olive trees, of the plentiful herbs and greens found on the nearby mountain, and of the nearby sea where glorious days are spent with brothers and sisters and the two visiting city girls (Zoe and her older sister).
Sarri is known as Ζωή (Zoe - pronounced Zo-EE) in the novel, a name which means "life" in Greek, and a lively and wild-spirited girl she is, with dreams of a life in theater (Sarri was an actress as well as author). Zoe comes from an unusual family, with a Greek father from Constantinople, who runs a French language school in Athens, and a French mother from Senegal (whose story is told in a much later novel entitled To Protelevtaio Skalopati / The Penultimate Step). Zoe and Panagiotis are the same age, and it is for Zoe that Panagiotis builds a tiny stone house up on the mountain to surprise her when she next comes to spend the summer. He carries heavy stones and whatever wood he can find to build this house—an act of great childhood love and devotion.
The children act as escorts every summer to visiting tourists - Germans, French, English…who are amazed at the children's knowledge of their place and of languages. The children take them by donkey and on foot to the famed Doric temple of Afea
on the mountain near their home, and the tourists reward them with a little money. Zoe directs a play with all the children as actors, which is staged in the open area in front of the village house, with tickets sold to all the local villagers. This turns out to be the first play that Panagiotis' mother (who had believed the theater to be a den of sin) has ever attended. Ta Stena Papoutsia is a beautifully written book that describes a childhood where nature is the abundant source of all pleasure, with no need for manufactured toys and "entertainment", and it forms a fascinating account of life on the island before the second world war.
Otan o Ilios
Sarri was in her late teens during the German Occupation, which she describes in her book Otan o Ilios../ When the Sun….
first published in 1971. This book must be one of the finest accounts of the Occupation written by someone who lived in Athens during the 3½ years that followed the Italian invasion of 1941, (the Italians routed by the Greeks in the snowy mountains of Albania), and the German invasion and occupation of the following spring. It is a harrowing account, as must be any written about the horrific treatment of the Greek population during the German Occupation, and is also stirring in its description of youth involved in the Resistance, among whom was Zorz Sarri.
The Treasure of Vagia
The Treasure of Vagia
, her first novel, was set in the post world war II period, and is based on real incidents of the burial of money by Germans in the Vagia area during the war, and also of German land mines which killed and maimed innocent villagers even many years after the war was over. It describes a treasure hunt by teenagers who are from the same families described in Sarri's later books, along with a much younger Zoe than the 16-20 year-old Sarri depicted in Otan O Ilios...
(during the Occupation). In any case, the hunt is for money buried during the Occupation by a young German soldier who had stayed in one of the few Vagia village houses during the war - a house requisitioned by the occupiers. The soldier had stolen the money one night after seeing a trunk opened by the lady of the house - money saved for her grandchildren's education. To say more would be to spoil the story, though it must be stated that Sarri presents the young German as a man of conscience in the end, and hence makes the moral point that whatever the viciousness of a war machine there are always good human beings unwillingly conscripted to do the machine's dirty work.
Zorz Sarri, born in 1925, is still alive and lives in Athens. Her books, including children's books and books for "young people", have been translated into French, Russian and Turkish.
Text by Souzana Raphael
* First published by Kedros in 1979, and republished from 1992-2000 by Patakis - P. 168. ISBN: 960-293-676-2 , which has editions of all of Sarri's many books
** The Thisavros tis Bagias, first published in 1969. is a fictionalized version of real events that occurred during the German occupation of Greece in WWII - republished from 1992-2000 by Patakis - p. 141. ISBN: 960-293-680-0.