Novel captures innocence in wartime

Occupation Child confronts the brutal reality of WWII and childhood naiveté 

Occupation Child.
Credit: 
Supplied by author

Tassos Anastassiades’ first book is an unconventional glimpse into growing up in German-occupied Greece through the eyes of a naïve child.

Occupation Child, written by Queen’s professor Tassos Anastassiades’ under the pen name T. Stypas, follows young Tasouli’s tumultuous journey from German-occupied Greece to 1950’s Canada. Anastassiades paints the grim colours of war-torn Greece by delving into wartime starvation, torture, fear and death. 

The storytelling is informative as Anastassiades shares his own experiences with the reader through the young Tasouli. 

Tasouli is a child in a world of adults, left on his own trying to understand the events happening around him. He finds solace in the imaginative relationship he forms with the author’s character who goes by his pen name, Stypas. 

The child’s story isn’t an exact account of Anastassiades’ own childhood, but his real life experiences are reflected through Tasouli’s adventures. 

He uses time travel and make-believe as a way to connect the character’s childhood with later events which take place in Canada.

“Tasouli has the ability to travel to another time and another space and there he meets the story teller Stypas and his family, his wife in a faraway place which is called Kingston,” Anastassiades said in an interview with The Journal. 

“It’s all based on fact through the eyes of this very imaginative child,” said Anastassiades. 

He told The Journal that he set out to write this book after discovering how little his own friends and family knew of their story. The discovery came at his father’s memorial service after friends and colleagues expressed their surprise at not knowing about his family history. 

Anastassiades’ father taught agricultural chemistry at Macdonald College and lived a long life in Canada—one  Anastassiades deemed worthy of immortalization. Occupation Child is like a time capsule, a photo album or a family heirloom—it seals Anastassiades’ family’s history within its pages and shares the experience of political turbulence, uncertainty and persistent hope with the reader.

The events in the story are filtered through the innocent and naïve eyes of Tasouli. This form of storytelling allows Anastassiades to tell dark truths while maintaining a sense of hope and joy. The childlike sense of wonder and utter confusion makes the harsh reality of Anastassiades' story tolerable. 

At one point in the book,Tasouli recalls how adults called his apartment building “Bastille”, after the famous French prison and how honoured he was to live there. His innocence protected him from the implications of calling a home a prison. 

Tasouli’s adventures sometimes provide joyful relief from the horrific circumstances of Nazi-occupied Greece. He tells a story about his friendship with his cat, Joujoukos. The cat stole a piece of meat from Nazi collaborators, who had more food than the average person.

The theft made Joujoukos a hero, not because it gave the meat to the starving people, but because it took something away from the collaborators. Tasouli shares in this sense of heroism because it was his own way of fighting against the occupation. 

This second-hand feeling of nobility develops his budding sense of identity, while remaining defiantly optimistic. 

Tasouli’s positive attitude and feelings of heroism appear in excitement at having fought against the occupation, but also in awareness of the fatal urgency of war. His story is still rooted in simplicity, whether it’s his use of colours to refer to periods in his life or a small story he tells himself in wartime.

For Anastassiades, these thoughts become an escape. 

“At some point I developed an image in my mind. It was a beautiful clear day with an unbelievably blue, blue sky that never went away. That was freedom,” Anastassiades writes in Occupation Child.

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