Menis Koumandareas was born in Athens in 1931. He began to write at a young age, but first earned his living working for insurance and shipping agencies. In 1962 his first publication, the book of stories ‘Ta michanákia’, marked the start of an extensive and award-winning prose oeuvre, which has been translated into six European languages. In 1972 the author, who has also distinguished himself as a translator of authors like Poe, Hemingway, and Faulkner, received a scholarship from the DAAD in Berlin.
Koumandareas is considered the leading representative of social realism in Greek prose. His stories primarily take place in his hometown of Athens, which the author has only ever reluctantly and for short periods of time left. His themes are the boys without hope, failures on the periphery of a cruel middle class society. His language is direct and precise, but his realistic narrative style also contains lyrical and elegiac elements.
With his works Koumandareas not only speaks out against the regressive petty bourgeoisie, but also against every form of state despotism, which during the years of the Greek military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974 caused serious problems for the author. Together with his chronicles ‘To arménisma’ that were published in 1966, the co-author of the ’18 Texts’, which Greek writers wrote to protest the conformity enforced by the colonels, has been cited in a court of law more than once, but was finally cleared from the accusation of obscenity. His debut novel ‘Viotechnía jalikón’ which was influenced by his impressions from this time was published a year after the fall of the dictatorship and received the first Greek State Prize (1976), granted after the end of the junta.
The novel ‘O oräos lochagós’ that was published in 1982, is also about Greece in the 60s. At the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001 it received the newly established Blue Book Prize created to support Greek literature and was translated into German. It tells of the subtle homoerotic encounter between an aging judge and a young captain, who at the Administrative Court wants to sue for his promotion. The scenery in the novel is hazy and in its repressive and threatening qualities recalls Kafka’s ‘The Trial’. Against this background, the insistent captain increasingly falls apart, thereby becoming a symbol of a youth that passes without having been lived.
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