Birds of Winter

Taylor, Mark

In Brief BIRDS OF WINTER, by Theodore Vrettos, Houghton Mifflin, $9.95, 211 pp. The little Greek village of Livani belongs to "a wretched land that could nourish only the humble olive tree,...

...The only way it can be liberated is through death...
...a village where a bride's relatives invade her honeymoon cottage on her wedding night, to look on her wedding sheets for traces of hymenic blood...
...He is a character of a certain complexity, but in his make-up I do not see impulses of Commonweal: 638 spiritual yearning...
...even the recurrent image of flight equals a desire for escape, not transcendence...
...The little Greek village of Livani belongs to "a wretched land that could nourish only the humble olive tree, the emaciated goat, a place where nothing survived but the spirit of a decaying past...
...One fragment of that spirit animates Jason, the young hero of Theodore Vrettos's Bildungsroman: the idea of the self as Icarus, able to soar above and away from the labyrinth that Livani has become for him...
...MARK TAYLOR 7 ĽNovember 1980: 639...
...I want to look down at the world from the highest throne of the universe...
...I want to fly over that mountain," Jason thinks...
...It is 1940, and after the fascists invade Greece, Jason and his fellow reservists are dispatched to a front in Albania, where he is wounded...
...but what is puzzling in this generally absorbing novel is why Jason ever expected the monastic life to resolve his problems of young manhood...
...This notion Jason rejects...
...Athens might not have fulfilled his quest either, but as an objective it makes sense...
...Thus might he escape the embarrassments, primitive and parochial, of a village most of whose male inhabitants go to church only on Easter, and then only to fire pistols into the ceilings to make sure Christ awakens...
...At the end Jason returns to Livani, and what he finds there, though perhaps cruder still, reminds us of the brevity of Icarus's freedom, and the absoluteness of his loss...
...He returns to Greece, neither to Livani nor to Athens but to a religious community on a nearly inaccessible mountain top, the Monastery of the Living Blood, where Jason hopes to find freedom and, if not God, himself...
...Jason would go to Athens and he would go to America, but the twentieth century has other plans for him...
...He finds, instead, monks whose idea of freedom is a fixation on death, because life, one of them explains, "is the soul confined in the tomb of the body...
...the monastery doesn't...

Vol. 107 • November 1980 • No. 20


 
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