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The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamantis
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The Murderess

by Alexandros Papadiamantis

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Showing 5 of 5
"Whatever she had done, then or now, she had done it all for the best"
By sally tarbox on 8 January 2017
Format: Paperback
Short (127p) but powerful read, following an elderly woman staying with her daughter and her sick newborn granddaughter. She thinks back over her life, a slave to her father then her husband , the fight to make ends meet, the struggle to get a dowry together for her daughters, without which they'd remain old maids. And the pain of losing her sons - two emigrated and were never heard of again, one is in prison... Isn't it better for everyone if her daughter is disencumbered of this new arrival?
But Hadoula's logic means she keeps going, seeking to 'help' other families cursed with daughters, culminating in an exciting and beautifully written tale. Bringing the scenery of the Greek Islands to life (the author was a native of Skiathos), this is simply written but most compelling. ( )
  starbox | Jan 7, 2017 |
The setting is so exotic, and even the multiplicity of names, as to be almost distracting, but the story is engaging while at the same time having a strong sense of inevitability. This is perhaps part of what the European novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici (disclosure: for whom I do www.gabrieljosipovici.org) means when he said (as reported on the back cover), "It is books such as The Murderess which remind us of the miraculous nature of fiction." ( )
  V.V.Harding | Apr 21, 2015 |
Hadoula, "the murderess" of this book, is a 60 year old woman living in a small village on one of the Greek islands. She has led a down-trodden life. As the novel opens she is watching over her newborn grandaughter, who is seriously ill, while the child's mother sleeps.

"As the old woman rocked the child, she could have sung the whole saga of her sufferings over the cradle. In the course of the previous nights she had really lost track of reason in the catelogue of her sufferings. The whole of her life, with its futility and its emptiness and hardness, had come into her mind in pictures and scenes, and in visions."

As she reviews the difficulties of her life, her brain "began to smoke," and she almost unthinkingly suffocates the newborn. The baby's death is attributed to natural causes. However, suspicions begin to arise when other girls die.

This novel quietly conveys the reality of a woman in a remote poor community a century or so ago, its fishermen, shepherds, and other peasants. It also magnificently and believabley reveals the mind of a woman, who feeling herself trapped, acts in a way that is horrifice and difficult to understand.

3 1/2 stars ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Feb 10, 2012 |
At the beginning of this intense novella, Hadoula, a 60-ish woman living on a small Greek island in what appears to be the late 19th century, is watching her ailing infant granddaughter while her daughter sleeps. As she watches, she mentally reviews her life, and that of her parents and family, a life of hardship, especially for girls and women. Life has improved in some respects, in that the brigands and the Turks are gone and peace reigns on the island, but the men and women still have to scratch out a living from the rocky earth and the ever-present sea. Many of the young men have left for America, and parents are left to somehow find husbands and dowries for their daughters. Sons disappear, some go to jail, and daughters are a burden. And, as she muses and dozes, Hadoula unconsciously makes a fateful decision that sets into motion the rest of the book.

What stands out for me in this story is the vivid depiction of a time and a place in which the residents know every inch of ground, every risky path across the rocks, and every hidden cave on their remote island, and in which the past is still present in ruined castles and chapels, family is central, and nature is always at hand. As the translator notes in his introduction to the edition I read, at the time Papadiamatis was writing, in the 1890s, the Greek islands were 50 times further behind Athens than Athens was behind Paris and London. Despite some qualms about dialect the translator sometimes uses the somewhat melodramatic nature of the story, I couldn't put this book down, especially as it builds to its not unexpected conclusion.
4 vote rebeccanyc | Jan 10, 2012 |
Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911), known as the "saint of modern Greek literature", was born on Skiathos, an isolated and provincial Aegean island which provided the setting for several of his most highly regarded works. These works are short stories and novellas that describe country life on the island; he also wrote about urban life in Athens, where he moved to as a young man. Papadiamantis was a deeply religious man who never married, and he returned to Skiathos two years before his death.

The Murderess is considered to be Papadiamantis's masterpiece, which was written in 1903 and recently translated and published by New York Review Books Classics.

Jannis Frankissa, known as Old Hadoula, is a widowed midwife who is known and respected for her healing remedies throughout Skiathos. She has had a hard life, as have most women on the island, plagued by death, poverty, the oppressive dowry system that impacted her life and those of her daughters, and the activities of her wayward and irresponsible sons. She believes that the lives of women on the island are worthless, and despairs at the birth of her new granddaughter: 'O God, why should another one come into this world?' The baby is quite ill, and Old Hadoula is charged with watching the baby while her mother rests, and healing her if possible. During a series of sleepless nights, while the baby cries and coughs, Old Hadoula recalls her past sufferings, and aches at the thought of another girl having to experience what she did.

This novella provides a vivid glimpse into an isolated village's culture, and how its oppressive culture and poverty led to deviant behavior and madness in a good and devoutly religious woman. It was a good read, but a book of about half its length would have made for a more powerful and effective story, as it was repetitive and slow going in spots. ( )
7 vote kidzdoc | Jul 3, 2010 |
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Alexandros Papadiamantisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Garrigasait, RaülTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Old Hadoula, sometimes known as Jannis Frankissa, lay beside the hearth, with her eyes closed and her head resting on the step of the fireplace, the cinder-step as it is known.
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The Murderessis a bone-chilling tale of crime and punishment with the dark beauty of a backwoods ballad. Set on the dirt-poor Aegean island of Skiathos, it is the story of Hadoula, an old woman living on the margins of society and at the outer limits of respectability. She knows womens secrets and she knows the misery of their lives, and as the book begins, she is trying to stop her new-born granddaughter from crying so that her daughter can at last get a little sleep. She rocks the baby and rocks her and then the terrible truth hits her: theres nothing worse than being born a woman, and theres something that she, Hadoula, can do about that.… (more)

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