Copyright 1994 The Sunday Telegraph Limited
March 20, 1994, Sunday
SECTION: BOOKS; Pg. 11
LENGTH: 500 words
HEADLINE: Long way home John Colvin on the extraordinary story of a wandering
BYLINE: BY JOHN COLVIN
In the Trail of Odysseus by Marianna Koromila tr by Nigel Clive Michael
Russell, L14.95 THIS modern-day "Odysseus" is Yiankos Danielopoulos, one of 12
Thracian children born in Vasiliko, a whitewashed Greek village of the Ottoman
Empire in 1899, and dying in Attica 88 years later. His life has been compiled
by Marianna Koromila from a privately printed family record that she acquired
from his daughter. It reflects the turmoil of that region in the 20th century.
Born under the Empire, Yiankos lived in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Turkey and
Greece, surviving two nationalities, seven homes and 13 professions, all imposed
by "the gale of the world". Bulgarian violence, Bolshevik revolution, civil war
and Communist take-over were his Eumenides. As a child, he "listened to the
rattle of the pebbles as they were washed up by the waves"; saw woods,
vineyards, wheat fields and boats unloading below his window on return from
fishing. The Thracian traders and shipowners, with relations in all the Black
Sea ports, he described as the seagulls which followed the fish. In winter,
wolves descended from the mountains, threatening the village. "Union is
strength," said Yiankos's father when the horses drove them off.
Powers then changed lines on maps. Vasiliko came under the Bulgars, and life
became untenable. Yiankos and his brothers moved to Constanza in Romania and
opened a grocer's shop. An admiral's wife fell in love with one of the brothers.
The shop received the navy's warrant. Funds accumulated. Bulgaria then invaded
and the family fled to Galatz (also in Romania) with their assets - 50 cases of
macaroni. Yiankos dealt profitably in foreign exchange; money was made. But
Galatz became an impossible place, what with bombing and Cossacks shooting holes
in wine-cases and drowning in the alcoholic flood. The Danielopouloses escaped
to Russia, packed like sardines in a stinking refugee train.
Life in their new
Russian home, Berdiansk, was lucrative until the Bolshevik and Anarchist
massacres began, when the family escaped to Novorosisk in 1917, where the
Russian fleet had scuttled. They steered clear of politics, which preserved
them, but chaos came. The family escaped by tug back to Constanza, having
profitably run cafe, shop and currency exchange in the middle of a revolution.
Back in Romania, they enjoyed "party-time" - the annees folles of the 1920s -
until the Crash of 1929. Thanks to family unity, they picked themselves up
again, flourishing even during the German occupation of 1940.
But later, in
1950, when Soviet theft and odious oppression became intolerable, Yiankos, his
wife and daughters left for Greece. They
arrived in Mount Hymettos penniless,
but went on to farm pistachio, orange, lemon and tangerine trees, cows, hens and
vegetables. Yiankos had survived once more. Nigel Clive's sparkling translation
of Koromilos's book is richly enhanced by Patrick Leigh Fermor's introduction to
that legendary world of the day-before-yesterday.
LOAD-DATE-MDC: March 20, 1994