What Pegman Saw – “Life and Spirit Free”

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Athens, Greece.

WPS - athens-greece 171111

WPS - Storming the Polytechnic 171111

Genre: Historical fiction – 17 November 1973

Word count – 150

Life and Spirit Free

The night’s blackness is beaten back by the soldiers’ arc lights.

Stinking exhaust from a tank blows across the road towards us as we cling to the gates of the Polytechnic. Somebody has a radio. My Giorgios is still broadcasting from the heart of our struggle.

“Polytechnic here! People of Greece, the Polytechnic is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy!”

Giorgios, I love you!

The tank’s engine revs.

It creeps across the road. Surely it’s not going to crash the gates? There are a dozen of us hanging on to them!

Alex, next to me, yells at the soldiers massing behind the tank.

“Brothers in arms! Disobey your orders! Support us in the struggle for liberty!

‘From the Greeks of old whose dying

brought to life and spirit free…’”

I join in.

The tank is coming.

Aagh! That hur….

Historical Note

From 1967 – 1974 Greece was ruled by a military junta. They used all the techniques of a totalitarian state including arbitrary arrest and torture. Students were at the forefront of the resistance, and in November 1973 they occupied Athens Polytechnic, and improvised a radio station using laboratory equipment.

On the night of 17 November 1973 the army stormed the Polytechnic, using a tank to break down the gates, to which students were clinging. No lives were lost during the assault – although there were many injuries. However, later in the day soldiers shot dead several people outside the campus, including 17-year-old Diomidis Komninos shot through the heart by a sniper.

I have quoted a translation of part of the Greek national anthem, which students were singing as the tank attacked.

Greek National Anthem

I shall always recognize you

by the dreadful sword you hold,

as the Earth with searching vision

you survey with spirit bold.

From the Greeks of old whose dying

brought to life and spirit free,

now with ancient valour rising

let us hail you, oh Liberty


Book review – “The Memory Stones” by Caroline Brothers, published by Bloomsbury

The memory stones, from CB

BUENOS AIRES, 1976. Osvaldo Ferrero and his wife Yolanda escape the city’s heat with their daughters, Julieta and Graciela, who is madly in love. On their return, the military junta stages a coup, and Osvaldo is forced to flee. Graciela is abducted and becomes one of the ‘disappeared’. Yolanda fights on the ground for some trace of their beloved daughter, while Osvaldo can only witness the disintegration of his family from afar.

Soon Yolanda and Osvaldo realise that Graciela was expecting a baby when she was snatched; perhaps they are fighting for an unknown grandchild as well.

This is a great novel, in the sense that ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by Steinbeck is a great novel. It is driven by passionate indignation that men should do such wicked deeds, it tells the story through believable characters, and it is written with quiet words that nevertheless sing.

Caroline writes beautifully, and uses some vivid metaphors. There is, for example, a three page story of the travails of a letter through the streets of Buenos Aires. It tells the reader of the appalling crime that has been committed against Graciela with a forcefulness that description could never achieve on its own.

It’s difficult to bear the sadness and loss of the central characters. There were times when, despite the enthralling writing, I picked up the book with reluctance because it hurt so much. In reading the novel, I learned that the regime’s rule of terror took more than the lives of most of those who disappeared; it also took fulfilment from the lives of those whose families and friends were taken.

I was glad that I persisted in reading. Osvaldo and Yolanda are people of integrity, determination, and, above all, love. By the end of the story, love has won some victories to set against the evil of wicked men, and those victories are important. When you read this book – and you really should, for it is a deeply enriching experience – summon up your own integrity, determination and love, summon up your courage, and immerse yourself. It’s well worth it!

You can read more about the novel at https://www.facebook.com/MemoryStones1/