Konstantine Paradias is a man of many trades. In a country populated by a seemingly impressive amount of eccentrics, he seems to have encountered them almost daily while in the course of struggling to make ends meet. Depicting life in modern Greece, a country with a long and storied history and currently trapped in a bleak economic spiral, Paradias offers snapshots of weirdos, eccentrics, and everyday folk struggling to live and to enjoy life. A work of non-fiction, this book is hard to fit into any sub-categories: it’s neither memoir nor history nor current affairs, and yet it’s all three. It offers no sustained narrative or heavy-handed thesis. Instead, it’s a collection of vignettes offering snapshots of people the author has encountered throughout his life as a jack of all trades.
Reading this book is like viewing Greece through a kaleidoscope. Cycling through every short chapter is akin to twisting the kaleidoscope, revealing new colors and images. In the process, and if you pay close attention, it shows you new ways to view and to understand every person you encounter. And that’s where this book’s greatness lies: in focusing on people, usually eccentrics or strangers most people would overlook or ignore, Paradias imbues this book with humanity, with a genuine respect, even love, or at least empathy, for everyone he encounters.
From a man who hoards clocks to and a mysterious yet tempting woman, we’re treated to a variety of personalities and stories. And, oh the stories. Each short chapter focuses on a different person Paradias has encountered throughout his life. Some vignettes tell broad stories about these people while others define them through snapshots by focusing on a single behavior, hobby, or obsession. Some end abruptly while others flow like haikus and end on a punch line or a rumination. Or nonsense. But all entertain or move you in some way.
In some respects, this is an odd book, and in a lesser writer’s hands a reader might chuck it after two dozen or so pages. Here’s a collection of people we don’t know in some sense, of “characters” never fully developed, told by a narrator kept at a distance. Sometimes Paradias participates in these vignettes and sometimes he’s a quiet observer. This technique of de-emphasizing himself may feel off-putting at first, but as you dig into this book it’s hard to conclude that this was a bad decision. In fact, you slowly realize that it was not only the right decision but a humane decision as well. By focusing on his subjects and not on himself, Paradias invites us to act as observers in funny or even intimate moments with the kind of people most of us would ignore.
This is the book’s greatest strength. If you read it the right way, it even becomes a sort of philosophical work. By treating us to real characters, by focusing on their benign lives, their banal existence, and their stories, Paradias teaches us something if we’re willing to pay attention. By stripping away a person’s appearance, by treating them as both objects and subjects, he’s introducing us to a new way of seeing our fellow human beings.
He observes them in the ineluctable modality of the visible, to quote Joyce. In a sense, the work is kind of like a literary phenomenology. By bracketing our biases and presuppositions, as Paradias the narrator often does, we can pay attention to people we might usually ignore. We can observe them. From their behavior we can infer information about them—and possibly even about humanity. If we can bracket our own shortcomings and our own opinions of people, if we can observe them in their elements, focusing on their affectations and behavior, we might learn things about them, about human beings, and even about ourselves.
This is a tremendous book, full of humor, sorrow, and pathos. It’s at once a snapshot of the inner lives of the underserved and a country in economic decline. It also offers the opportunity to glimpse life inside Greece, a country many of us have never visited—and might never visit. Sorry, Wrong Country by Konstantine Paradias is definitely worth your time.
Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at daultondickey[at]yahoo[dot]com.