This is the wonderful presentation to Croc Attack in the novel’s launch event in the Public book store in Thessaloniki, written and presented by the Greek Bestselling, Salonikian author, Isidoros Zourgos. Translated from Greek to English by Christina Theochari.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, we have the pleasure today to introduce to Thessaloniki the Israeli writer Assaf Gavron and his novel Croc Attack, his first book translated and published in the Greek language and published this week by Bartzoulianos Editions.
Dear friends, more often than not, the presenters of a recently published book face a few common problems: they certainly wish to inform the readers about the plot and the action of the book, until a point which also consists a volatile limit, while on the other hand, no one wants to disturb the freedom of the readers and their right to embark on a personal exploration, diving into a new universe – every novel is itself a new universe, one should not forget. In other words, the presenter is invited to enlighten by using one’s own projectors targeting these points that he deems important, valuable, holding some special literary weight. But this “nosy” illumination of the text is in no way a navigation guide for the reader; it is more a call to a substantial introduction to the novel and its author. Croc Attack is one of those books which are not afraid to be exposed to the light from the beginning, and this is one of its primary virtues – others will follow.
Our first stop and a first illumination: In my opinion, this is a novel with an action-movie rhythm, a simple yet eloquent language, concisely descriptive with an effectively staccato tone, wherever necessary. Listen to a few examples: “her lips were soft like a feather and salty as the sea itself” (p. 145), or “The sky was the color of blue so cold and clear as the eyes of a Siamese cat” (p. 161), and also: a woman was shot the very same time that she was draining the washed clothes. They shot a kid who had painted his face green and mocked them“(p. 210 ).
The language of Gavron has colours, smells, tastes, always in such a discreet way, as much as it is required each time. The recipe for fiction carried out by the writer seems suspicious when it comes to adjectives; he uses images of nature with exceptional scarcity, for example the weeds – parched by the sun, used as precious spices. Or the antithesis to the buzzing city – the slopes of the countryside, its caves, a humble donkey that functions by obeying to the rules of contrast; maybe it also incites some subcutaneous biblical memories, touching the Jewish, Muslim and Christian collective subconscious.
Gavron proves a master of speech, disciplined, restrained in its lyricism. I appreciate the fact that he knows very well that the emotional overflow is not a high art in itself . Assaf Gavron is not simply a descriptive narrator – certainly not an impartial one (how could this be possible after all), but fairly biased in a landscape of persistent conflict; he does not hesitate to play with fire , always within his art, i.e. not by using slogans or cries but with the mighty whisper of an ailing human being.
I continue with more illuminations, by outlining the two main heroes of the novel. Eitan Enoch, or Croc, is Israeli, and Fahmi a Palestinian. They share more than anyone might imagine. Although they live in two hostile nations, have different religions or conditions of everyday life and work, they are nevertheless partners, sharing the same tragic experience.
Croc is a symbol and a victim of western modernity, a helot serving technology through the structure of a modern corporation; he lives like a scared rabbit, running into a bustling Tel Aviv, trapped in traffic, in a deafening buzz of explosions and terror, in an impasse of personal relationships. Croc is a man fundamentally illiberal. His oppressors are originally from his own country, established by the logic of his father’s generation. His oppressors are also the enemy bombs, his fiancée, his job – focused on saving and selling spare time to companies and persons, the damned unused spare time which proves to be such a tyrannical nightmare of the modern world. Croc’s job truly has some Kafkaesque extensions at times
(such as the labyrinth paths taken for the qualitative evaluation of the employees), with abundantly interwoven black humor. I read from page 145, where Croc is talking: “Once I smoked, when I was in the army, but now I would simply lose precious time.” As the novel unfolds, Croc resumes smoking but he doesn’t enjoy it anymore. Our hero seems trapped, doomed.
Croc’s life is dominated by the omnipotent media that use him as a bait and a “broken idol”; he is dominated even by psychiatry sessions, which are described with a Woody Allen irony. His life is dominated by the attraction he feels for more than one girl, but sex remains on all pages stubbornly ineffective. Croc, through the eyes of Gavron, seems like a modern quixotic seeker of happiness, but his dream is not one of chivalry or windmills, but the serenity and warm bosom of a girl.
On the other hand, Palestinian Fahmi is the second hero in this evolution of ancient drama of the Middle East. We learn about him through his own inner monologue, since he is lying comatose in the hospital after most of the action of the novel is finished. Fahmi starts the thread of narration from his grandfather in the early years after the Second World War, when it took him an hour on the donkey for a particular route, while today the asphalt road running through continuous outposts and roadblocks , identity checks and car queues, takes three hours.Top of Form
Fahmi has his own oppressors: political slavery, poverty, violation of rights, psychological domination from his older brother, who also embodies the standard and unbearable burden of racial pride and tradition. He is also dominated by religion and the duties arising from it; lastly, he is suppressed by grief and fear because of a special task he is entrusted with – a terrorist attack – that he had not chosen for himself.
It is with mastery that the author presents Croc and Fahmi , how they crawl under psychological violence, reluctant symbols of resistance – each for his people, while they have not asked for it, nor do not they have actually ever liked it. Two societies in perennial heartbreak select their victims, in order to continue the ritual of human sacrifice in an endless drama. Yet Croc and Fahmi only wanted to enjoy their youth, to fall in love looking carefree at the full moon in Palestine. Their fate, however, was to become the heroes in a timeless tragedy without catharsis in the end.
For anyone who has not visited the state of Israel and the West Bank, for any reader from another country who knows the Palestinian problem only from the television and the newspapers, such as myself, there is a point when it is time for reading. Then, the heroes of the novel are released from the shackles of time and space. This is a tough bet in literature, which Gavron seems to be winning. The history of Croc and Fahmi is quite common, in one way or another, in many corners of the world, in recent decades; Belfast and the fight between Catholics and Protestants, or the conflict in the Basque region, where, between the pincers of hate there will always be young people who yearn for the carefree moon and the warmth of another body, where there will always be a Croc to console a tearful girl outside a cemetery or a Fahmi who excels in tenderness and humanness by feeding carrots to a malnourished donkey in Palestine.
For those of you who will read the novel, you will get to know them, these and several other characters, including the donkey, of course…
Dear Assaf Gavron, welcome to Greece, lay down your gifts and let us meet.