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Prolific Greek Author Vassilis Vassilikos Dies at 89

Vassilis Vasilikos
Vassilis Vassilikos was the author of ‘Z” which was translated into many languages and became a famous movie directed by Costa-Gavras, with music by Mikis Theodorakis. Public Domain

Prolific Greek author Vassilis Vassilikos whose books have been translated into many languages died in Athens on Thursday. He was 89.

He has published more than 100 books, including novels, plays and poetry.

Vassilis Vassilikos’ political novel “Z”

His best-known work is the political novel “Z” published in 1967, which has been translated into 32 languages and was the basis of the award-winning film Z directed by Costa-Gavras, with music by Mikis Theodorakis.

“Z” follows the events surrounding the assassination of the democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. The title refers to a popular Greek protest slogan (Greek: Ζει, meaning “he lives,”) in reference to Lambrakis.

Lambrakis was a member of the Greek resistance to Axis rule during World War II, he later became a prominent anti-war activist. His assassination by right-wing zealots who were covertly supported by the police and military provoked mass protests and led to a political crisis.

The book, which was banned in Greece during the dictatorship, also inspired the Indian film ‘Shanghai’ which was released to critical acclaim.

At the time of the release of Costa-Gavras’s film, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who named “Z” the best film of 1969, liked the screenplay and its message, and wrote, “[Z] is a film of our time. It is about how even moral victories are corrupted. It will make you weep and will make you angry. It will tear your guts out..”

Vassilikos and his late wife Dimitra (Mimí) were friends with the American poet James Merrill; the death of Mimí serves as a critical late plot turn in Merrill’s epic poem, The Changing Light at Sandover (1982).

Vassilis Vassilikos turns to politics

In the United States, Vassilikos had long been associated with and published by Seven Stories Press.

The author turned politician in late life. He ran in the 2014 Greek local elections as a PASOK candidate for counselor in the city of Athens. In the 2019 Greek legislative election, he was elected MP with leftist SYRIZA.

He was born in Kavala to parents native to the island of Thasos. His father was an MP with the Liberal Party. He grew up in Thessaloniki, graduated from law school there, and moved to Athens to work as a journalist.

Because of his political activities, he was forced into exile for seven years, following the military coup of 1967.

From 1981 to 1984, Vassilikos served as the director of the Greek state television channel (ET1). He has also served as Greece’s ambassador to UNESCO from 1996 to 2004.

Selected bibliography

The Monarch
And Dreams Are Dreams
The Photographs
The Plant, the Well, the Angel
The Coroner’s Assistant
The Harpoon Gun
The Few Things I Know About Glafkos Thrassakis
Z (English language ISBN 0-394-72990-0 or ISBN 0-941423-50-6)

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