Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

A Crowded Heart

Posted by nliakos on July 9, 2006

by Nicholas Papandreou, Picador 1999 (orig. published 1996)

ISBN 0-312-20400-0

This is supposed to be a novel–it even says so on the cover!–but it is a thinly veiled one at best.  The narrator, like the author, was born in California to an American mother and Greek father who is heir to a political dynasty, just like Andreas Papandreou, former Greek Prime Minister and father of the author.  The book describes the boy’s childhood and coming of age from about age eight to seventeen, set in Greece and Toronto.  It was undoubtedly a difficult childhood: only part Greek, not even fluent in the language, the boy must live up to a certain standard of behavior, and his life, like that of all politkcal families, was very public.  I am sure it wasn’t easy.

That said, there is no real plot; no ascending action, no climax, no real resolution.  The book reads more like a memoir or collection of autobiographical essays than a novel.  It is interesting and well written, but not gripping.  It was also an easy read and quite short, only 177 pages.

I am left wondering to what extent the events were fictionalized, if at all.

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2 Responses to “A Crowded Heart”

  1. NIck Papandreou said

    Hi. Some fanatic internetter friend of mine send me your comment (thanks for reading the book and suggesting it in your list!) and I thought why not add my own response as author of the book? I can see how a reader will think the book is a record of my life, yet the only way to check that is to know my life, which most reviewers don’t. As odd as it may seem, my actual life is far different than that portrayed in the book and except for the historical facts (dictatorship, unnamed political family) the rest is sheer invention — invented is for example, the baptism, going to a village, travels with dad, dancing, relationship with siblings, et cetera. However you are not alone and the line between fiction and fact I agree is not always easy to discern. One odd result of the book (in Greece) was the when I did the ritual book-signing thing, people expected a smooth calligraphic style and because my hand-writing is atrocious (having changed 8 schools and five countries), I ended up actually buying one of those calligraphic pens and tried to learn a calligraphic signature so as not to let some of the readers down who really wanted to believe everything was indeed true…I was trying, in short, to live up to my invented persona…

    But of course what is true and what is invention is not ever spelled out if a book is called fiction — whether it’s Mambo Kings or A Boy’s Life. I am glad you think it was all true, after all isn’t that the purpose of a novel or a movie, to fall into the “dream” that this is actually happening?

    In Greek the book was called “Ten Myths and One History”, a sideways indication that most of the book is invented (myth) and a very small part is actual fact (history). Having said that, I do agree that most who read it think it is simply a record or a memoir, although if one reads a memoir, the internal ruminations, the dialogue are quite different, and of course there is a complete absence of closure in real life. Each chapter in my book has or at least intends to be complete in and of itself and thus provide at least a satisfying sense of closure to the reader. As for your other, lit crit comments, well taken.

    Just a few thoughts on a hot Sunday morning over here in Athens, while working on an article on which language has more words, Greek or English (…), something which only the Greeks seem to really care about.
    Take care
    –N

  2. nliakos said

    Hello Nick,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful response to my post. I apologize for jumping to the wrong conclusion about the book! You are kind to point out that believability is what fiction writers strive for; you certainly achieved it for me!

    I was glad to know the Greek title of the book (but why do publishers change titles when they publish translations of books? It makes it so much harder to figure out whether one has read the same book as one’s friends have!).

    Again, thanks for your comment and for reading my blog.

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