Vic City Express by Yannis Tsirbas

Vic City Express is a fierce little book; tiny in size, but large in reach and impact. It will polarize readers with the message shouted out by one of the protagonists advocating the elimination of immigration, with not-so-subtle hints at the eradication of unwanted peoples. It takes place on a passenger train ride to Athens where an unfortunate man we’ll call the “reluctant listener” is seated across from a fellow Greek who has no trouble spewing virulent stories about his life growing up in Athens, his involvement in youth crimes, taking police beatings, how Greeks are outnumbered by non-Greeks in his building in Vic City (an area of Athens centered on the Victoria metro station) and so on.

“When did things change?” asks the reluctant listener of his offensive fellow passenger.  

“Listen, pal, beats me. Like one minute it wasn’t and the next minute it was. We started hearing about it on TV, in the papers and so on. You were ashamed to say where you lived. […] One day I’m in Vic City and I look around me. Swarming with people, hundreds of them. ‘Easties, ‘Roccans, Pakis, you name it we got it. [..] When did it happen? I don’t know, but it was like, you go to sleep and it’s not there, and you wake up the next morning and here’s this mess, pal.”

viccityphoto
Victoria Square, near the Victoria Metro Station.

Vic City Express an extraordinary example of creative fiction, (or a fictional essay), as it employs different writing styles throughout. Some of the conversations take place on the train, other times it is the angry man recounting portions of his life as if to himself, and other parts are curiously different, such as the portion entitled “Another Night” where the unpunctuated story rambles on almost incoherently, reading like the storyteller is on Speed.

As the ride goes on, the man gets louder and more demonstrative. The reluctant listener gets increasing wary of the man.

“He waves his hand up and down excitedly. I catch myself looking toward the other passengers to see if there’s anyone who could help should the need arise.”

In the Afterword by translator Fred A. Reed, he states that “Vic City Express introduces English-speaking readers to a Greece that they are unlikely ever to encounter. A Greece catastrophically impacted by the flood tides of globalization and the concomitant destruction of what once was a deeply traditional society.”

To be honest, I found the book a little bizarre at first and I left off reading it part way through. Then I decided to sit down and read it in one sitting as if I were on the train too. Suddenly, the full impact of this little book is truly felt. Even if you disagree with some (or all) of the angry man’s opinions, there are many in Europe and the Americas who would agree with him, for there is even a Greek neo-fascist movement called the Golden Dawn, who is now the country’s third-ranking political party. As I said at the beginning, this book will polarize, but it is a reflection (sad but true) of the times we live in and of the people, those whom you may just encounter on your next train ride into your city.

“A provocative non-dialogue.” Le Monde

Vic City Express by Yannis Tsirbas, translated by Fred A. Reed Baraka Books

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