When the book, A Man, came out in the early 1980s, I was barely 30 years old. At that time, Panagoulis was a brave Greek freedom fighter. My opinion of him was heavily swayed by the fact that I was enamored by my own Greek rebel who adored the book and the character.
Now, however, thirty years later as I've finally gotten around to reading it, Panagoulis seems more like a self-absorbed narcissist. But it's the woman who loved him intensely who has convinced me of this.
Oriana Fallaci was, without a doubt, a gifted writer which remains apparent throughout the book. But she had the opportunity to depict Panagoulis, the man she claimed to love, as the superhero many Greeks saw him. Yet her portrayal of Panagoulis seems more like a psychological profile of a very self-centered hyperactive boy. When someone suggests to Panagoulis that his desire to create another act of defiance against the dictator, is really his own ego trying to stay in the limelight, Fallaci says, "I hoped this would be a beneficial crisis," as she alludes to a sort of agreement with this assertion. Later, as Panagoulis hatches a new idea for rebellion and must wait for all the pieces to fall into place, Fallaci writes, "waiting. . . was the acid test of your stubbornness, of the monomania that afflicted you every time your faith spawned an idea and the idea became a psychosis." There is a moment when Panagoulis seems to reach a turning point and tells Fallaci that he has changed and that, "the real bombs are ideas. Any imbecile can pull a trigger." But he's lied so much to her, that the reader feels a sense of frustration when she believes him.
Along with these statements, there are the situations in which Panagoulis blatantly disregards Fallaci's feelings or well-being. He wants a "companion" and is a lonely man, yet he sneaks blocks of TNT into Fallaci's bag without her knowledge. In fact he lies to her and tells her, it's a rock from the archeological site which they're visiting when his TNT contact, slips him the explosive. Fallaci doesn't find out his lie until they've left the park. Panagoulis' actions are constantly a testament to his self-image, his own needs and his disregard for others.
Okay, so maybe the translator of this text makes Panagoulis seem like a narcissist and the original version, written in Italian, does not have the same cutting choice of words and phrases. After all, I've learned from translator, Franca Scurti Simpson, that translation is an art and not all translators would choose the same path with any given translation task. Unfortunately, neither the author nor the translator are still alive so we are unable to ask them.
So, I've asked several Greeks what they thought of the dictatorship in Greece and their ideas of Panagoulis. Well, without a doubt, he was a hero. None would back down from that and perhaps they're all a little annoyed at me for questioning it. Those I've asked happened to be from the poorest areas of Greece. Yet, alongside that diehard love of Panagoulis is also the fact that it was during the dictatorship which he'd tried to topple, that roads, electric lines, water pipes and other infrastructure improvements were made to those forgotten villages in Epirus. And they all acknowledge that. In fact, I was privy to one story in which a representative of the junta visited the village and put the first stone where the dirt path would be turned to a paved road, providing life-changing transportation and years of jobs for the locals. The representative cited his own mother and how she had to walk over the difficult terrain for water, then back to a house without electricity. And his wish was to improve access and fulfill these basic needs for everyone's mother. Perhaps, it was just good politics and the politician had a knack for working a crowd. But among the Greeks I questioned, there seemed to be no disconnect between Panagoulis, the hero, and the modernized infrastructure.
This brings to mind a book by author, Mary Smith, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni, though it is a completely different location. One Afghan woman expresses her feelings towards President Nahbullah's evil communist government by saying "my children had shoes to wear when [he was in power.] They had food to eat. Do you know how it feels when your children are hungry and you have nothing to give them?"
Thus, I tend to think there are fewer differences between the citizens of the world than some would have us believe and perhaps fewer differences between political leaders. But maybe the true differences are economic or a matter of city life versus country life. I'd be curious to know what author Marjorie McGinn thinks of Fallaci's rendition of the junta, as she was someone who lived in Athens at that time, which is outlined in her book, Homer's Where the Heart is. In fact, those flashbacks were some of my favorite parts of her book. Perhaps Ms. McGinn could find a new memoir within them?
In any case, for me, a well-written book is as important as its content. For this particular book and its character Panagoulis, who I'd expected to be canonized within the written rendition by the woman who loved him, I am left with the idea that Panagoulis was simply an individual with all the flaws of an ordinary person -- A Man.
Among the Zinnias, The Nifi, and Your Own Kind are available in ebook and paperback. And they're free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I hope you will give one of them a try!