Book Review: Good Will Come from the Sea
by: Lingyue Zheng
When a book pierces through a benign aura of an unfamiliar continent and storms in political thunders, rains of questionings and lightning of acute observations, it yearns to speak to readers about the fear and love for a country that runs so deep imagination goes wild and words are bare. The cover of Good Will Come From the Sea can be deceiving. With the font’s elegant serifs marking on the salmon-pink cover, the book whispers something jovial. It should be a gentle read, I surmised when I picked it up.
I was wrong.
The read is heart-gripping. Good Will Come From the Sea is set on an imaginary island on the Aegean Sea, sheltering thousands of misplaced Athenians after they’ve fled economically deprived Greece. The new home is far from a haven: Athenians are breathing under a grim and stagnant economic system, where the affluent class squeezes out every penny from the impoverished and shuts down any inkling of political dissent. The hostility between island natives and discrimination against Athenians drive the newly arrived refugees even further to the fringe.
In four connected stories, Christos Ikonomou immerses readers in a failing, corrupted society in which Greeks suffer and question their collective fates as homeless exiles. Words rush to eyes like waves to the beach. In “I’ll Swallow Your Dream,” Ikonomou goes full throttle, peeling off the loose skin that the government coats on the island by squandering public funds on luxurious resorts and other unnecessary expenditures. He digs beneath the secrets embroidered on government’s maneuvering sleeves, colluding with local tycoons in purging revolutionists. “The only reason I am telling you now is that it’s late at night and no one’s listening, and the wind just whisks my words away.” The chilling effects of the narrator’s fears and the resentment he holds for the “system” are set up by the visceral sensations permeating the pages throughout. For that, credit must also go to the adept and thoughtful translator Karen Emmerich, who helped preserve the beauty of the original Greek stories in a seamless English rendering.
To say Christos Ikonomou knows how to win readers’ hearts is an underestimation of his keen observations of humankind and the tenuous Greek political situation. His displacement of Greeks to a fictional island that shares a striking resemblance with Greece provides the necessary spatial detachment for readers to see the misgivings, reflect on the wrongdoings, question the future, and formulate actions for change.
Ikonomou tells the disturbing, revolting and unnerving stories through a candid, visceral and humorous voice. I often found myself pinching my thighs, so as not to laugh out loud, when reading through some of the darkest moments. “One rat sneaks into the chicken coop and grabs an egg with all four feet at once, then rolls onto its back. Then another rat comes in, bites the first by the tail and drags it out of the coop and back to their nest. See? That’s how rats operate in real life. Teamwork. Whereas these guys here are always looking for a chance to screw one another over, and if they ever band together it’s only to screw us, instead.” Ikonomou knows how to let his sentences do the work.
Good Will Come From the Sea follows Ikonomou’s Something Will Happen, You’ll See, another story collection about the lives of working-class Athenians, which won a prestigious national award. In Good Will Come From the Sea, Ikonomou faithfully chronicles the devastation anyone who has witnessed the collapse of an economy– its foundation revealed, the roots bare and ugly, and what comes next is still unknown. Let’s pause here and take a deep breath, maybe the sea breezes will bring us an answer.
Photo credit: Greek News Agenda