“My dear Mrs. Georges Sarri…”
A letter with a 30 year delay
During the years of my adolescence, looking for escape hatches, traveling on the pages of literature, I “discovered” (finally, I used to say then!) a writer who had lived through everything we were dreaming of, was saying everything we were afraid to say, opened all the windows for the clean air to come in and clear our thoughts. That first book by Georges Sarri was «When the sun…». When I finished it, I was moved to tears. And then I read it again, and again. So, Georges Sarri first walked into my heart and then she filled the shelves of my adolescent bookcase «Red thread on the reel», «The treasure of Vayia», «The lie»…
I was thinking of her as my second mom since, without me asking, she answered everything I wanted to know. I was talking to her without writing to her. I entrustedher with my secrets without her knowing. I didn’t care if I ever met her. She had made me so many gifts. All her books, which I read avidly. One of the first questions I would ask my new friends was: “What are you reading?” If they answered “Georges Sarri” or “Alki Zei” (another great love) I knew I already had a lot to share with them. At my thoroughly advanced age now, it seems funny that a writer could be the ticket to a new friendship but while growing up, we didn’t talk about TV shows, serials and games. Rather, books were a major topic of discussion.
I met Georges Sarri many years later, as the mother of my best friend, Melina Karakosta, and was impressed all over again. She was just like the way she wrote. Full of humor, vitality and love for life. Besides, she has said it herself: “Writers write first and foremost for themselves, in order above all to express themselves, to save themselves.” In all her books, Georges Sarri evokes so vividly different situations, different eras, that she draws young readers along, makes them feel that, in some way, they were there too… She says over and over again that all she did when she started writing was to copy her children («The treasure of Vayia») or recall her own childhood («The tight shoes») or her school years («E.P.») or the years of the Occupation, youth and Resistance («When the sun…»).
Georges Sarri was born in 1925 in Athens. Her mother was French from Senegale and her father from Ayvalik. She finished primary school and high school in Greece. During the German Occupation she took part in the Resistance, while attending the drama school of Dimitris Rondiris. She remembers that period in a very personal way: “The years of the Occupation were years of joy and freedom. From being unhappy, we became happy. And this because we chose the path of life, even though there was death in it. We grieved and we rejoiced all together. But we were not afraid. There was a goal, liberation.”
In 1947 she left as an exile for Paris where she continued studying drama. She returned to Greece in 1962 and continued acting in plays until the time of the dictatorship. Then, along with other actors, they chose to engage in passive resistance and not play in the theater. They thought it would only be for a few months because, again as she herself says humorously: “We didn’t imagine, you see, the dictatorship would be so long lived.” That summer she started writing her first novel, «The treasure of Vayia», as a game with her children and their friends. When she saw the great success the book met with, she decided to turn to writing. She proved quite voluble as she has already penned over twenty novels, kids’ plays and books for younger children. She also has translated several novels from French. All of her books have been through numerous editions, while some have received awards.
Certainly, the greatest prize for Georges Sarri is that, though the years pass and times change, children continue to love her books and still write to her to express their admiration.
What is the secret, then, of her books? What makes reading them so enjoyable for children and adults alike? (Quite recently I read her latest, «Ninette» which I think may be her best.) How does she manage to win children over? Is it because she was among the first writers who dared talk to children about contemporary issues without dispensing wooden lessons? Is it because her heroes are as real as the friends we play with in the summer? Is it because she always talks about children who are personable, have interests of their own and the capacity to make decisions?
I think she provides the answer herself in an old interview. “Yes, the experiences in my novels are personal. But the omnipresent narrator (me) is the ‘trick’ for speaking for my country’s historical past (Occupation, Resistance, Civil War, dictatorship). I think of my novels as adventurous insofar as life, too, is an ‘adventure’… My intention in writing was my own relief, not to say my ‘redemption’”.
As a child, I never wrote a letter to my favorite writer. If I wrote to her today, I would say the very same things I wanted to say to her then:
My dear Mrs. Georges Sarri, thank you for speaking to me of freedom, dignity, friendship during a time when I was looking for the stones with which to build my life’s principles.