Book Review: Z

[Purchase Book]

The original novel Z is a bit hard to find anymore; it’s ostensibly in print, but I’ve never seen it in a bookstore; I found one of the early paperback edtions in a used bookstore after a few months of looking for it (basically since I saw and reviewed the film). While the two have a similar story, being based on the same real event, each has a different tone — perhaps at least partially due to when each was created.


The book is far more introspective than the film — the ending is relatively open-ended. There’s a slight sense of defeat, the hint that justice probably wouldn’t be served — though the idea and hope that it still might rings through. Of course, when the book was written, the case hadn’t quite finished yet nor had the Greek Junta taken over; that would come less than a year later. The film is energized by the righteous anger when it is revealed that not only had justice not been served, but it had been positively raped and left for dead by the ultra-right-wing military government that had seized power — a government that had ties to Nazi Germany (and at least sympathies that leaned in that direction) as Vassilikos points out in the novel (a connection not made in the film, probably due to the decision to be more vague in regards to the setting, where the novel explicitly takes place in Greece). The tone of the “Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE.” disclaimer of the film would feel out of place in the novel; which is not to say that the novel pulls any punches. The novel merely more calmly makes its points and builds its case. In the novel, there is still the hope that the right thing will be done; with the film, it’s after all hope is gone.

Given the luxury of the novel’s timing allowing it to be more thoughtful, there are some gorgeous passages. Perhaps my favorite is the second part, “A Train Whistles In The Night”, an almost stand-alone piece where the soul of the Gregory Lambrakis stand-in, “Z.”, has become a butterfly and observes the funeral train carrying his family and body up to Athens. The piece stands as both a love letter and a “Dear John” letter from soul to body. At times, it seems as if the piece is from the point of view of Z.’s widow mourning her husband — and in a way, it is, at the same time as it is from Z. mourning himself. The piece is as moving a piece of literature I’ve ever read. The translator of my edition, Marilyn Calmann, has as good a way with English as I would assume Vassilikos has with Greek.

The novel is very dense, and can make for some slow reading; though in the good way — from the desire to savor the words rather than confusion stemming from clumsy writing. In fact, “clumsy writing” is a phrase that is far removed from any description of Z. As I said before, one of the strengths of the film is that it makes clear that the assassinated man was a human being first and a political figure second, and the book goes even farther in this aim. It is that very thing that makes Z so very, very powerful and gives it its heft. As to whether or not you should see the film first (as I did) or read the novel first, I do not know; arguments could be made either way. What I do know, however, is that you must do both, in whichever order you prefer.

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