Continuing our mystic journey into the heraldic world of Zyranna Zateli, we move to her first novel: the unsurpassed And with the light of the wolf, they return (1993). A common thread linking all its main characters underlies its ten chapters; yet each chapter exhibits a significant independence – such, that it renders the chapter meaningfully complete and historically adequate.
As with the sum of Zateli’s work, her source of inspiration is none other than stories she witnessed or heard of in the broad area of rural Central Macedonia (let us remind you that the writer was born in Sochos, Thessaloniki), entwined with the course in time of her extended family and the village. Stories complicated; with the deepest of meanings; with a sense of intuition; with the intense presence of death, of childhood, of animals; with many sacrilegious acts (infidelities, impieties, sexual diversions); with unusual phenomena (illnesses, social particularities); with marriages and unions of individuals outside the norm of the time; with intense natural phenomena (earthquakes, thunders, fires, storms, snow-storms, floods); they are all elaborately inter-related in Zateli’s narrative sequence, attributing almost magical dimensions to every chronicle.
Regardless how simple the facts appear to the eyes and ears of the ignorant, Zatelian narrative will lay self-evidently in the triumphant skies of elevated literature, to the heights of an art of rare aesthetics. In other words, while many readers can find in her stories many aspects with which they can identify trough their childhood memories in the Greek province, the tune is delivered so magically that they find themselves in awe of the ingenuity, the “assemblage” of meanings, the contemplation of life through the side-lights of the transcendental.
The twirling in the sequence of events does not follow straight lines – not even crooked ones. Zyranna (as her most devoted fans call her) does not allow the almost sacrilegious comprehensive deliverance and communication of her stories. This would be outright hubris for the psychic and valuable background of the eye of the animal she describes in her pages.
For this purpose, we have selected certain special parts from her first novel, And with the light of the wolf, they return (always from our own subjective viewpoint); parts that are so telling of the living forging of human actions into carelessly discarded stones, bricks and tiles.
We begin with the chronicle of a ceremony that entailed every boy’s obligation to slaughter an animal with his own hands, in the spring after his 12th birthday. The only chance to be exempt was in case of a death in the family – should it happen in the three days before the predetermined date. In this case, the ceremony was cancelled and the animal had the rare, for its species, luck to be allowed to die a natural death. Specially chosen clothes (that passed from one generation to the next), stained on purpose by previous sacrifices, prohibition of alcohol before the ceremony (as much as it was needed afterwards) for the protagonist: all these point us to relevant ceremonies of initiation to adulthood (circumcision of Muslims, etc.) that are present in several societies and civilizations around the world. Only through the telling of a certain (at least) Zatelian depth is it possible to enrich a custom with the necessary, for its preservation in the collective unconscious, magic.
We move onto the sacrilegious sexual contact of a pre-pubescent Muslim of the area (let us not forget that Macedonia was incorporated into Greece after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, while Zateli takes us back three or four generations before herself, into the 19th century, when Muslims and Christians cohabited the lands of the decadent Ottoman Empire) with a deaf mute – yet of sound mind – woman. After they are arrested “in the act of stealing oranges“, the boy is hastily wed to a girl of his own race; the woman is left alone until she is led to practice next to the best midwife of the region. An important note: for the purposes of her profession, two nails are torn and cauterized from her hand – a prerequisite of the time, in order to avoid causing infections.
During the departure of a father and his daughter, who is ailing from a serious disease of the time, from a certain hospital of Thessaloniki (could it be the one known today as Hospital for Infectious Diseases?), we come across the preparation of home-made lemonade by the son of the owner of a tavern-coffee shop. The boy squeezes in front of his customers seven lemons, adds three spoonfuls of sugar and starts transferring the mixture from one glass to another; he gradually increases the distance between the glasses to an impressive degree (try it with pomegranate juice).
What follows is a love story that blooms in the midst of the famous Macedonian carnival, when the men dress up as male goats bearing bells; when they party, drink and sing – in the tunes of Bacchus, of Dionysus, of Silenus, of Zateli; on a cold Clean Monday, at the beginning of March. The sweaty bell-bearer removes the goat-head that, heavy like the story, causes him to perspire continuously, and abandons himself to a love that his soul desired – more in love with love itself.
Next, we experience – along with the most fatal of heroes – their sneaky peaks of the “rabbits’ game”… If you hide in the bushes and remain still (at night, under the moonlight), you can admire rabbits, those otherwise rather jittery beings, leave their hiding places and play; like any living creature does on this planet, at least at some point in their lives.
Consistent with her peaks into the animal kingdom, Zateli describes eloquently the coming of wolves to the village (due to the change of weather); the drowned sheep, the taken infants, even the sheep that followed their killer meekly to his lair – as if hypnotized, fatal and without will creatures… A story that we may have heard before, communicated by a person “who we never felt was governed by blind imagination“.
The wolf is oft present in the Zatelian world. Perhaps the imperious posture; or the myth regarding the animal’s powers; definitely the triumphant behavior of a wolf caught by a fellow villager (in another novel by Zyranna); all these explain this so compelling obsession. The wolf is there in yet another instance – where else, in yet another of her novels – to determine the constants of a story with beginning, middle, end. From a fairy tale it begins and it is a life like a fairy tale that this particular wolf follows under the moonlight. But this is to be analyzed in another article.
In its final chapters, the book reveals the individuals through which the stories found their way to the author; the circumstances of their deaths; the starting point of her entire literary verve (the death of one of the most handsome and remarkable ancestors “for a young female goat“); the beginning, in essence, of this so rare and worth-exploring species that Zyranna serves.
Reading And with the light of the wolf, they return, you will be irrevocably initiated into Zyranna’s world, depositing any remaining “hopes” of avoidance to the self-fulfilling prophecy of its seduction. Let yourselves go.