My Last Lament: A Novel. James William Brown. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780399583414.
Aliki is a young girl when she sees her father shot during WWII; because of this tragedy she is unable to speak for years. The only noise she can make is that of a Greek lamenter. This art is more than just wailing and involves putting on the shoes of the dead person and uttering the dirge poems that rise from that person’s ghostly presence. It might seem to be a bit of far-fetched nonsense but in this story it’s a vibrant part of Greek culture. Thereafter, Aliki is taken in by a neighbor, Chrysoula and her son Takis, who become main characters in this tale.
Takis is what we now called mentally challenged. He becomes irate when anyone pays too much attention to Aliki and then commits horrific acts. As the war continues, German soldiers come into their Greek town and take over homes, food, and everything Greek. Chrysoula takes a great risk by hiding two Jews, Sophia and Stelios. Stelios is a character possessing great culture. He claims that The Iliad is the only novel one might read as it possesses everything one needs in life. Aliki and Stelios fall in love. There is a wonderful segment in the story where Stelios teaches his protectors everything there is to know about the art of shadow puppetry. Stelios teaches them how to write these plays, create the appropriate puppets for each story and then teaches them to act out each drama. This fills many hours that otherwise would have been dwelt on hunger and fear of exposure. However, their town is about to suffer a terrible blow when the Germans discover Stelios hiding.
The family escapes and the remainder of the story is about their journey to Crete and the establishment of shadow puppetry performances. Takis is accused of exposing the family and causing much destruction. However, Aliki is bound to him and feels responsible for protecting him as his family once took her in. The truth about each horrific event they experience eventually will come out, shocking the reader and making this an unforgettable story. Despite the repetitive and disorganized quality of some pages, this is a novel reflecting what average, ordinary Greek and Cretan citizens suffered during and after the terror of the Second World War! Interesting addition to war and historical fiction!