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Literature

New Novel ‘Tokei Maru’ Explores History

December 18, 2021

In September of 1922, the captain of the Japanese cargo ship Tokei Maru saved the lives of Greek and Armenian men, women, and children during the Smyrna Catastrophe. Among those rescued children were the mother and aunt of the late Dan Georgakas, author, poet, historian, editor, professor, film scholar, activist, and a longtime contributor to The National Herald. While some of the stories of survivors have been recorded, very little is known about the captain and to this day, his identity remains a mystery.

The Greek novel Tokei Maru by Eleni Andreadou and Zachos Samoladas attempts to bridge the historic facts with fiction, envisioning the life and times of the captain of the Japanese ship that rescued the refugees from certain death. The book follows the story of the captain of the Tokei Maru from 1863 Kagoshima, Japan, to 1931 Osaka.

In the intervening years, historic events, like the Sino-Japanese and the Russo-Japanese wars, the navy patrols of the Japanese fleet in the Mediterranean Sea in the final days of World War I, the burning of Smyrna and the rescue of Greeks and Armenians in 1922, as well as the political uprising in the Far East in the mid-1920’s, mark the fictional life of the captain of the Tokei Maru.

Along with parallel stories of refugees and the crew aboard the ship, the book explores 50 years of turbulent history that shaped the modern world while asking: Who was the captain of the Tokei Maru?

Eleni Andreadou earned a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Athens and a Master’s in Culture Management from Panteion University in Athens. Tokei Maru is her third book. Her previous novels, “Your, my umbrella” and “Too big to fit, too small for a surplus” were also published by Barbounakis Publications.

Zachos Samoladas studied film direction at Evgenia Hadjikou film school in Athens and Experimental Animation at the California Institute of the Arts. His animated short, titled Genesis, was the first animated short with a duration over 20 minutes in Greece. He is currently Deputy Technical Director at the Municipal Television of Thessaloniki, Greece. In 2018, he animated and directed the animated documentary Tokei Maru. This book is his first.

The authors spoke with TNH about the novel. When asked how long it took from idea to publication, they told TNH that “the book took about a year and a half to write. The base was a script that we wrote after the animated documentary with the same title was finished and screened. It is too difficult and too expensive to produce a decent period film in Greece, so we decided to combine our efforts and write a book. It is the best choice when there is a story to tell and not enough funds to make it properly.”

Of the writing process, they told TNH: “We started by writing chapters as independent ‘scenes’ each one focusing on a group of characters.”

Andreadou “added the emotion” while Samoladas “wrote the ‘action’ scenes,” they said, adding that “then we switched roles and added elements. As we wrote, we exchanged ideas and tried to talk about the more universal issues of war and death, refugees and human suffering, the role of women in society and history itself. Each one of us has a favorite character in the book, and there are chapters that we are both fond of, like the meeting between Yakumo Koizumi or Lafcadio Hearn and Captain Nori Ito at the Onsen Springs.”

When asked what was the most surprising thing they learned during the process of writing the book, they told TNH: “The dark secrets of history. As we wrote the past, it became the present. The same issues, war, intolerance, human suffering, the politics of the Allied forces and the role of local interest and how the event of rescuing all the people trying to flee from the burning Smyrni was lost and found again. For us, writing the book was like a voice from the past telling us that if memory is lost, we may face a darker future. Given the current situation and the growing tension from Turkey and the dynamics formed in the Eastern Mediterranean, it looks like history is repeating.”

When asked what they are working on next, they told TNH: “As a writing duo, we are planning another novel set in the past, but with a darker tone. The story is set in the time of the Incantadas, the statues that were stolen from Thessaloniki by the French and are now in the Louvre Museum. We are working on the timeline, the local tales, and the characters. It is again a book about history and legends and it will have some interesting surprises.”

Tokei Maru by Eleni Andreadou and Zachos Samoladas, published by Barbounakis Publications, is available online: www.barbounakis.com.

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