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Valparaiso, Chile, 1993. A dying communist leader in exile, a courtesan who seduces him, a so-called Doctor who undermines him, a Greek psychiatrist who is called to the rescue… An existential drama that becomes, in the hands of one of the greatest living Greek authors, a political thriller set in a dark and yet seductive scenery. The setting of Menis Koumantareas’ novel is Valparaiso, the notorious harbor in Chile; it is no accident: the central character, Erich, dies there, sick and in exile just like Erich Honecker, the last general secretary of Eastern Germany. The reader follows Erich’s last days with his wife Margot and his loyal bodyguard who is also his doppelganger. He is being treated by a Greek doctor, appointed in Chile, who is in charge of the leader’s health but is also part of a plan Erich has conceived. The plan is about the disclosure to Europe of a neo-fascist movement which is in the making by Erich’s host, doctor Felsenstein, an obscure old Nazi who lives under a false identity. In this plan, which the reader gets to know at the beginning of the narrative, participates Donna Concetta, a Latin American courtesan who manages an upscale whorehouse. Although she seems to be Felsenstein’s tool, she has democratic convictions and her father was one of Salvador Allende’s friends. Menis Koumandareas unravels the various aspects of the drama –at times a comedy, at times a parody – with references to the Berlin cabaret and presents the hateful leader as a human being like any other. He directs a thriller-like plot that puts the reader-spectator in the arena of the perennial struggle between good and evil. Although the part concerning Erich Honecker is flawlessly documented, the character as such is a creature of fiction very far from actual politics. The action follows a theatrical pattern while, sometimes, its rhythm becomes cinematic. The ghost of communism seems to fight against capitalism that has remained alone on the stage of history. This is a bold venture: a novel about a German communist in decline. The reader is left hovering delightfully amongst irrefutable historical evidence and the places that the writer’s wild imagination is exploring. Koumandareas has lived for a while on a scholarship in West Berlin and has visited the Eastern Sector time and again. However, what makes this novel interesting is the fictional dimension of the real facts.
Menis Koumandareas was born in Athens, in 1931. His first literary work was published in 1962. Since then, he has published twenty-two books. During the dictatorship (1967-1974) he was brought to trial on censorship charges in connection with his book “Sailing”. He has also translated, among others, works by William Faulkner, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway and Francis Scott Fitzgerald. His works have received numerous awards and have been translated in English, French and German.