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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Kassandra and the Wolf

Margarita Karapanou

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To purchase Kassandra and the Wolf

Title: Kassandra and the Wolf
Author: Margarita Karapanou
Genre: Novel
Written: 1974 (Eng. 1976)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: Greek
Availability: Kassandra and the Wolf - US
Kassandra and the Wolf - UK
Kassandra and the Wolf - Canada
Cassandre et le loup - France
  • Greek title: Η Κασσάνδρα και ο Λύκος
  • Translated by N.C.Germanacos

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Our Assessment:

C : tries much too hard to be sensationalistic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2010 Joseph Dewey

  From the Reviews:
  • "The novel disquiets, un-eases, disturbs, but intrigues. There is a coolness to its execution, Karapanou's testing of the limited perceptions of an emotionally damaged child who cannot speak for herself compels focus less on those harrowing events and more on their translation into lyric story." - Joseph Dewey, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Kassandra and the Wolf is the story of a young girl who relates episodes from her life up until she begins school. The short chapters -- fifty-six in all, in a 115-page book -- reasonably convincingly present a child's undifferentiated view of the world, with little sense of cause and effect (and consequences), but the voice and impressions aren't always persuasive.
       That there are some unpleasant family-issues here, especially with mom, is clear from the first chapter, which reads in its entirety:

     I was born at dusk, hour of the wolf, July, under the sign of Cancer.
     When they brought me to her, she turned her face to the wall.
       That reaction is extreme, but throughout the book there is a lack of connexion to family members, certainly at any level that she can handle. At best, she's treated as a sort of sex-toy by some of those who look after her; it's hard to call what she's subjected to abuse (though that's clearly what it is) since she too sees it as a sort of playing. With children closer to her own age she also displays what comes across as a largely natural curiosity about the body -- but, of course, it generally isn't seen that way by adults.
       Still, sex is omnipresent, and even her grandmother offers the young girl some advice for when she's older:
     "Then, when the Gentleman takes you to be his Lady, when he puts on his pajamas and you put on your nightgown, and he stands upright and naked and then on top of you, don't ever show you like it. Just imagine that you're in the parlor, cross-stitching swans and peacocks. If you like it so much you can't stop yourself, pretend you've got stomach cramps. because if you were to moan, the Gentleman would divorce you and, with the name you have and the position you hold, that would be terrible
       Fortunately, she also gets other advice elsewhere ("learn the secrets under the sheets, open your legs and let the little stars and hurricanes into your belly"), but all of this seems way premature given her age.
       At its best, Kassandra and the Wolf captures childish (not-so-)innocence just right, as when Kassandra gets a lovely doll from her mother (also named Kassandra) and:
     I put her to sleep in her box, but first I cut off her legs and arms so she'd fit.
     Later, I cut off her head too, so she wouldn't be so heavy. Now I love her very much.
       At its more frequent worst Karapanou's attempts at conveying childishness sound ponderously silly:
     One morning, I couldn't hear. I quarreled with sounds. I turned into a table. I turned transparent.
     It rained from the sky, and the raindrops turned to tears on my cheeks. I chewed words, so heavy I couldn't lift them, turned to pebbles in my belly. I changed shapes constantly. (Dumb) words came out of my mouth, and the air around me tore them in pieces.
     Letters turned to reptiles.
       Kassandra stutters, but the realistic descriptions of this are far more affecting than this sort of approach.
       The very casual sexual abuse throughout the book is disturbing. But, while not quite benign, it is also presented in a way that it's obvious that that is not the worst thing that is happening to Kassandra. And the most horrific chapter in the book comes when she desperately wishes for a kitten: her grandmother finally gives in and Kassandra is overjoyed -- "It was the first time I felt happy, as the grown-ups called it in the parlor" -- but her grandmother tells her that she's only borrowed the kitten, and that it must be returned at the end of the week. Kassandra's reaction is plausible but of singular cruelty, and when the child acts out this way it is more disturbing than any of the violations she is subjected to.
       There is some cohesion to the scenes and some progression to the story, but Karapanou generally only touches on events before moving on to something else, barely exploring what the effects might be. In some cases that's sufficient, but in most it's not. The book ultimately feels much too thin -- and much too much like it's trying to get by solely on the sensational.
       The uneven writing, far too often devolving into the 'artsy', doesn't help either: there are some powerful undercurrents here, but Karapanou doesn't let them flow naturally through her narrative. The voice isn't convincing as that of a six-year-old child's -- and only some of the observations are -- and overall there's far too little here that works.

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Kassandra and the Wolf: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Greek literature

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About the Author:

       Greek author Margarita Karapanou (Μαργαρίτα Καραπάνου) was born in 1946 and died in 2008.

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© 2008-2010 the complete review

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