3 out of 4 stars
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Better Dead Than Divorced: The Trials of Panayota by Lukas Thanasis Konandreas M.D. is a true story documenting the murder of the author’s second cousin Panayota, forced to marry the village scoundrel and serial womanizer, George Nitsos after some intimate relations with him out of wedlock. The novel goes into immense detail of the trials of Panayota’s husband and his accomplice, both accused of killing her after a night out. The author, who was a child in the 50s when the murder occurred in his birth village of Kupaki Greece, pens down his childhood memories of the case and, supported by first-hand accounts from witnesses and research from newspaper and court records, weaves the complete story into this book. The only member of the village ready to risk all he has to prosecute the killers, the author’s father Thanasis Konandreas, who is also the victim’s cousin, is portrayed as a self-sacrificing protector figure, eager to get justice for his slain cousin.
The themes of domestic abuse, corruption, marital infidelity and unrequited spousal love are very strongly portrayed. As it is a true story, we are plunged into the sad life of Panayota, a life that cannot be modified nor decorated to please the reading audience. We hope for her redemption through a divorce or a change in her husband’s attitude toward her but her husband continues to humiliate her, treat her badly, and seek out a hit man to end her life. The stigma of divorce prevents Panayota from taking the required action until it is late.
At first, the novel proceeds at top speed, making it necessary to stop and go back several pages to understand the characters. I had the feeling, while reading, that the author had a false impression that we knew the characters and there was no need to develop them fully. The sudden introduction of several cousins initially made me think everyone was related.
It is interesting to note how the author refers to his father and mother by their names in the narrative, only referring to his mother as ‘mother’ much later in the story, distancing himself from them. The inclusion of location photographs carefully researched by the author is relevant and important to the plot; however, I was not sure why the author, after a character referred to the state of the moon during key points in the story, proceeded to show actual photographic images of the moon on those exact dates.
The first striking grammatical errors were in direct speech making it difficult to identify if they were editing errors or consciously inserted speech defects of the characters (who are Greek speakers after all). There were other obvious editing errors throughout the novel and after the initial sections, a very heavy leaning towards reporting the legal processes of the first and second trials of George Nitsos. It appeared as if the author wanted to document facts for posterity, and idolize the role played by his father in the prosecution and conviction, more than entertain a reader. Although it is a tragic love story, the book will appeal to an audience interested in details of legal proceedings. For these reasons, I will give this book a rating of 3 out of 4 as it was a somewhat tedious read when these details were narrated. This does not omit the fact that the author did a great job of researching the story.
"Better dead than divorced"
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