Review by Roxana Necsulescu
Born in Crete, the publisher, poet and novelist known as Manolis moved to Thessaloniki for his childhood, and went on to receive his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the Panteion University of Athens. He served in the armed forces for two years before immigrating to Canada in 1973, where he took classes in English Literature at Simon Fraser University. Manolis now writes in both English and Greek.
Primarily set in Pasadena and Los Angeles, his new novel The Circle features two Iraqi men, Hakim and Talal, who are studying in the United States. The third-person narration follows the relationship of the two men as well as their relationship with the United States, which becomes further complicated when the two of them fall in love with American women. Emily and Jennifer are the wife and daughter of Matthew Roberts: a member of the CIA Intelligence Unit that had a direct role in the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003.
The relationships between the Iraqi men and the American women manage to be both subtle and passionate. Arguably the strength of the story is that Manolis takes care to neither over-emphasize or underplay the importance of differing nationalities.
Manolis’ background in poetry is apparent throughout. When describing the love affair between Talal and Emily, he writes: “Talal sits listening to the song of the wind through the small park where they sit, a song that unfolds slowly and methodically like a majestic eagle spreading its wings to the heights of the sky.”
As the novel unfolds, Hakim gains a greater awareness of horrific events that transpired during the American/Iraqi war. He also learns to gradually accept the past and move on. Under the guidance of his wealthy uncle Ibrahim Mahdi, he learns not to be prejudiced against the Americans that he meets in his daily life in L.A. and to avoid punishing Jennifer for her father’s involvement in the war.
The artful writing conveys a sense of humility that all the characters share. Hakim and Talal do not monopolize the dialogue. There is an overarching understanding provided to all the characters. Even Matthew Roberts, the American CIA Intelligence member, is written with a high degree of compassion rather than judgment.
The Circle was conceived shortly after the beginning of the war in Iraq: “It’s a look at war from the point of view of the citizen, what happens to him once the bombs stop falling,” Manolis told Surrey Now.
Learned hatred for a previous national foe is something Manolis knows firsthand. Growing up in Greece, children were routinely taught to hate the Turks, their former occupiers. “When a child hears this again and again,” he says, “you carry it inside you no matter what benign form it might be in, and it comes out eventually.”
Driving a cab in Vancouver in the 1980s, Manolis once picked up a fare who asked him where he was from, and in return he asked the passenger his country of origin. When the man answered Turkey, Manolis said the intensity of his reaction to the man shocked him, especially as he was in his 30s and an otherwise mature, rational person.
Nothing passed between the two men, but it did inspire a story that was published in a Greek magazine, and that story has provided the context for The Circle.
Libros Libertad 2011