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Literature

Stratis Haviaras’ When the Tree Sings

September 6, 2022

On occasion, there are books that come across our path that grab attention with the very first sentence and draw the reader along on a journey to meet unforgettable people and experience distant lands and time periods. When the Tree Sings by Stratis Haviaras transports the reader from the very first page with lyrical description and skillfully drawn characters guiding us along in this moving and powerful story.

Set in Greece during the German occupation in World War II, When the Tree Sings depicts the horrors of war from a boy’s perspective. The young narrator’s parents are dead and his paternal home destroyed. He lives with his aged grandmother and though they barely have enough to keep body and soul together, they struggle to survive. Haviaras brings the village to life with its colorful characters including Flisvos, the narrator’s one-eyed playmate; Lekas the Informer; Uncle Iasson, who is in love with Lekas’ red -haired mistress; poor Dando, who laments not having a real name since he was never baptized; and a mysterious figure known as the puppeteer.

Stratis Haviaras (1935-2020) was born in the town of Nea Kios in Argos in the Peloponnese where his parents, refugees from Asia Minor, had settled when the town was founded in 1927. Haviaras grew up in Athens during WWII and the ensuing Civil War. When he was nine, the Nazis executed his father, Christos, for participating in the resistance, and sent his mother Georgia Hatzikyriakos to a concentration camp in Germany. The family home was also demolished by the occupying forces during the war.

Haviaras struggled with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia but his love of the written word helped him persevere and finish grammar school. At age 13, he began writing poems and plays. Haviaras worked for many years in the construction trades. His first work published in Greek was a dramatic monologue titled The Rusty Nail which was later performed at the Actors Studio in New York.

At age 32, he came to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he worked at Harvard University for 40 years – 26 of those years as the Curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room. Founder of the Harvard Review, Haviaras published in Greek and English. His translations of poems by Seamus Heaney appear in Greek and those of Constantine Cavafy in English. His two famous, critically-acclaimed English-language novels, When the Tree Sings and The Heroic Age, portray the lives of children as they struggle to survive the cruelty of war and its aftermath. First published in 1979, When the Tree Sings was shortlisted for the National Book Award and named an American Library Association Notable book. In 2003, The Guardian placed When the Tree Sings at the eighth spot on the top 10 list of 20th century political novels alongside works by internationally renowned authors such as J.M. Coetzee, Michael Ondaatje, and Joseph Heller.

The new edition of When the Tree Sings, published by Paul Dry Books, is set to be released on October 11.

More information is available online: https://www.pauldrybooks.com.

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