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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Slaves in their Chains

Konstantinos Theotokis

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To purchase Slaves in their Chains

Title: Slaves in their Chains
Author: Konstantinos Theotokis
Genre: Novel
Written: 1922 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 248 pages
Original in: Greek
Availability: Slaves in their Chains - US
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  • Greek title: Οι σκλάβοι στα δεσμά τους
  • Translated and with an Introduction by J.M.Q. Davies

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly good portrait of the times, in the form of a family-in-decline saga

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 11/7/2014 Roderick Beaton

  From the Reviews:
  • "Konstantinos Theotokisís masterly anatomy of the old ruling class of his native island in terminal decline is as tightly constructed and claustrophobic as a tragedy by Ibsen or Strindberg. (...) These people are doomed, and the novel follows the intersecting paths of their doom with an anatomistís precision. (...) The characters are drawn with great sensitivity. Though each can seem typecast, most are redeemed by contradictions and complexities that make them deeply human. (...) This is a powerful novel, fluently and compellingly rendered into English for the first time. It deserves to be much better known." - Roderick Beaton, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Slaves in their Chains is set in early twentieth-century Corfu, part of a Greece in some political turmoil in what are in any case turbulent times in Europe. Everything is unsettled:

Small, impoverished, unruly and enslaved, our country is like some shapeless chaos where everything has yet to be created.
       The novel centers on the family of patriarch Count Alexandros Ophiomachos Philaretus, whose two sons, Paris-educated Giorgis and Spyros and two daughters, Eulalia and Louisa, still live at home. They are old nobility, giving them social standing ((and burdening them with it), but it is no longer possible for them to live off their extensive holdings. Political and social change, and bad luck with the harvests, have drastically reduced their earnings -- and they are either incapable of or unable to take on any sort of everyday jobs. Even something like actually managing their own business affairs.
       Old man Ophiomachos isn't much of a businessman at all, and he has thoughtlessly taken up credit to sustain his family's lifestyle. He now finds himself in way over his head -- not even able (or bothering) to keep track of how deep a hole he's dug himself:
I don't know myself. But the interest keeps increasing. Debt, says Hadrinos, is something alive and self-generating. It grows, gets heavier, and scuttles one.
       The opening and closing scenes of the novel both find, at different points, young Alkis dangerously sick in bed. A friend of the family, an aspiring writer, he and Eulalia are passionately in love. In the opening chapters he recovers -- but is soon dealt another blow. A local doctor, Steriotis, has bought up most of the huge Ophiomachos debts -- and he has his eye on Eulalia. The only way for the Ophiomachos family to get out of the mess they're in appears to be for Eulalia to marry Steriotis.
       Giorgis, meanwhile, is carrying on an affair with a woman married to an invalid. She is also wealthy -- a hurdle to them ever being truly together, even after the death of her husband. As Giorgis explains to her: "your wealth is an insuperable impediment", since the Ophiomachoss are: "members of society and as you know society's not blind". (Essentially selling off sister Eulalia is apparently not frowned upon by society, but god forbid a man should marry a woman passionately in love with him who happens to have money, because of appearances.)
       Regardless of what they do, however -- though helped by the hapless way they act -- it is as Eulalia recognizes:
Her family was continuing down the self-destructive path it had embarked on, she reflected, and no one would have the power to save it.
       A big part of their problem is their basic attitude, from the Count's unwillingness to try to figure out and deal with even the most basic business matters (or at least ask his sons to help him with them) to the more fundamental:
     'Death', said Ophiomachos shaking his head sadly, 'death is a small matter compared to shame. Death is forgotten, but shame abides down through the ages !
       With an attitude like that, of course, things can not go well.
       The family's desperate straits convince Eulalia to marry the doctor, but of course her heart isn't in it, so that proves only a limited success. And the family's continuing foolishness -- including son Spyros following in his father's footsteps and banking on monies not yet available to him -- compound the nasty situation they find themselves in.
       Giorgis says it for them all:
     'Ah, money...' he murmured plaintively.
       Building on the decline and fall of this family, Theotokis also presents more of the politics and social conditions of the day. While this is a decidedly upper-class novel -- despite hard times, the Ophiomachoss still circulate almost exclusively in fine circles, and there's nary a sighting nor much concern for all the peasants and tenants the patriarch complains about -- there is considerable political upheaval going on in the background, and even Alkis leads a call for change. Weak in constitution -- and just a would-be writer -- Alkis is, of course, incapable of taking it any further -- as indeed his other failures, in romance and life as well, suggest that the forces that might go against the powers that be and the situation as is are still far too weak to effect any sort of change.
       Some of the personal portraits are quite effective, especially that of stubborn old Ophiomachos, an almost Lear-like figure, and the strong supporting characters, notably the doctor and Giorgis's mistress, are especially impressive. Theotokis struggles a bit in his storytelling, however. This is a tale more in the nineteenth-century mode, but he doesn't quite manage the flow or fill of those novels, Slaves in their Chains proceeding too fitfully and parts too hastily sketched out: Theotokis manages some powerful scenes, but can't sustain the narrative at anywhere near full throttle.
       A fine piece of the period, and a reasonably well told story to go with it, Slaves in their Chains has enough depth and layers to still be of considerable interest.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 February 2015

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Slaves in their Chains: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Greek author Konstantinos Theotokis (Κωνσταντίνος Θεοτόκης) lived 1872 to 1923.

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© 2015 the complete review

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