I received an advanced review copy of this book from Melville House through Edelweiss. This book was originally published in Greek in 2012 and it has been translated into English by Karen Emmerich.
I thought that from the description of this book the major focus of the plot would be a murder mystery. And while the murder of an American journalist is the main event that affects many of the characters in this book, the novel is about so much more than this case.
In 1948, the lifeless and bullet riddled body of an American radio journalist is found floating in the bay of Thessolaniki. At the time, Greece is entangled in political and economic turmoil and depends a great deal on American aid and money. When the Americans demand that journalist’s murderer be found and punished immediately, the leaders in Greece look for an easy scapegoat; they beat a confession out of a poor, innocent, and hardworking immigrant named Gris.
The most tragic parts of the book deal with Gris and the affects that his arrest and torture have on his family, especially his mother and sisters. Gris has no one to protect him and even the lawyer that is assigned to defend him realizes that there is a political game to be played and Gris is just a sacrificial lamb. It is a given from the beginning that Gris is innocent, but the amount of people involved in his arrest, torture, and imprisonment is astonishing and tragic.
The narrative shifts to the current time period in Greece which is also suffering from economic upheaval. My favorite character in the book is 18 year old Minas Georgiou who has been a good student throughout school until his senior year. All students are expected to take a difficult test called the Panhellenic exams which determine their ability to enter university. Minas is tired of memorizing facts, studying for tests, and conforming to what the adults in his life want from him. I admired Minas for not following the crowd, not caring what other people think about him and digging his heels in and deciding that he will not be stressed out anymore by a standardized test.
Minas’ eccentric yet tough history teacher decides to motivate him with an unusual assignment: research and present his findings about the Gris trial. Minas takes on the challenge and not only does he learn a lesson about the gray area of justice, but he also learns that the political and economic issues facing Greece are cyclical.
THE SCAPEGOAT is a well-narrated and tragic story that teaches us that history is never as straightforward or black an white as the history books oftentimes make it seem. I hope that more of Nikolaidou’s works will be translated into English.