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The Perspective of a Child

Πρωτοβρόχια, the first rains. Anyone who has traveled to Greece in early autumn knows them well. Just moments ago, everything was in the grip of seemingly endless heat. And then suddenly comes the downpour, changing everything.

You wake up the next morning, and a new season has begun. The air smells different. Suddenly, everything seems bathed in a softer, golden light. You hear countless tiny snails shuffling the already dried leaves back and forth. And in between, countless green plant tips are already peeking out.

But amidst all this change, there is no cause for panic. No reason to change your clothes. The sea is still warm and will remain so for quite some time. It's just a small harbinger that makes the waning summer even more enjoyable.

That, at least, was my understanding of the "first rains," for which the Greeks have a special word. Almost every year I experience them when I am in Greece at this time, escaping the cold in Germany for a few more weeks.

This year, of course, everything was a bit different. I wrote these lines in early October under the most beautiful sunshine. And we started our vacation just as the severe storms in Greece in mid-September had barely subsided. And then, in a supermarket with mostly empty shelves on the edge of a campsite, a small booklet titled Τα πρωταβρόχια ("The First Autumn Rains") by Spyros Kiosses (Spyros Kiosses) fell into my hands (here is the publisher's page on it). It turned out to be the most delightful holiday reading. And that's why I want to say a few words about it here - especially since it indeed has some relevance for the research project on narrative perspective that I am currently carrying through.

The story is told to us by a boy named Tasos and takes place during the turbulent transition from the 1970s to the 1980s. The choice of narrative voice was convenient for me for two reasons. For one, it lowers the language level, making the story understandable for me, who is not a native Greek speaker. Secondly, and here the connection to my current research interest comes in, I took great pleasure in observing how the author lets us see his world through the eyes of the growing boy.

The narrative consists of many loosely connected episodes. The child's perception overlooks much that is of great importance in the adult world—yet it can also scrutinize things that escape the adults from their vantage point. This may sound banal, but it is delightfully implemented here, far removed from usual clichés. And free from the compulsion in literature to allow only statements that advance the plot. That's not how children's lives are. In it, figures appear and then disappear again, never making it beyond a minor role. And memories stand both firm and quite unconnected next to each other. Like the experience when little Tasos realizes one morning that he is invisible (Οι χαρτοπετσέτες, pp. 61-65). The child is not stupid and naturally wonders whether it could be a dream (but can rule that out). Fortunately, this experience is never resolved. Only that Tasos has not really vanished into thin air, that much is clear. Because his life goes on. Just as it is for children.

At the very end, Tasos writes an essay in the new school year. He is actually supposed to choose between two topics: "How did you spend the summer?" and "The first rains." But the boy, who is no longer really a boy after this summer, writes about both at the same time. About the neighbor girl who moved away. About the father who left the family. And about the grandmother who has passed away. About the realization that there is no way around growing up. And that all these experiences are like the first rains of autumn:

"And all of this was like the first rain, dear teacher. You think it's summer and it will always be sunny and warm. But then a small gray cloud suddenly appears on the edge of the sky. It gets darker and darker, and then the first rain breaks out. Everything around you gets wet, you get wet too, and it's as if the moisture penetrates you a little bit. And then you get cold." (p. 167, my translation)

As readers, we don't experience all the individual rainfalls. It only drips here and there. Here too, the author shows sensitivity for how growing up takes place, how memory solidifies, how biographies are written. The book about the first autumn rains thus remains more of a book about the summer of childhood. Only as adults do we already see what is looming on the horizon. Even in the beautiful memory of a festival, in which Tasos likes to indulge when he feels restless, the signs are already there:

"It is so beautiful today. The sky is radiant blue. Just a small gray cloud, on the edge of the horizon" (p. 160, my translation).

[This post is based on the German post that I recently wrote for my own webpage.]

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