by A. H. Nedani
Owl Publishing, 2021
335 pp. ISBN 978 1 896512-59-4
The Broda Salt Cabin is a first novel set in north-western Greece during the Nazi occupation of 1941 to 1944 and the brutal civil war of 1946 to 1949. In a note about the author, we learn that A. H. Nedani was born in a war-torn Greek village and came to Canada at a young age. The novel, we are told, is based on a true story. Nedani is described as having “a lifelong itch for writing novels” that she satisfied by writing The Broda Salt Cabin.
She had a story to tell and she seems to have plunged into it with relish and an unstoppable urge to let us know all about it. She tells the love stories of Danae, a girl from the mountain village of Broda, in Macedonia, Greece in the late 1930’s during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. Danae and her friends are arrested for singing in Bulgarian, a language forbidden by the dictator, and she is fined.
Danae is the central character of the novel and we follow her fortunes and misfortunes during the 1940’s and well into the 1950’s when she finally finds a way out.
A sampling of the plot. At a wedding, Danae falls in love with a stranger named Nicholas. They know nothing about each other but their love is of such ardour and intensity it is enough to cause spontaneous combustion. He delivers some salt that she is carrying to a cabin near Broda and it becomes the Broda Salt Cabin. It is their cabin and it acquires great symbolic meaning for their love.
Their love affair and marriage occur during the occupation and the rise of the Greek resistance. There is scant resistance to the Germans because the Greeks are divided into the leftist, communist-controlled EAM-ELAS group and the right-wing EDES. Danae and Nicholas despise the communists and suspect them of wanting to give Macedonia to Bulgaria. During their wedding ceremony masked men enter the church and open fire on the guests. The attackers are pro-Bulgarian collaborating with the Germans and hate the Greeks. Danae and Nicholas are patriotic Greeks.
Nicholas falls into the hands of the collaborators and is killed. Nedani mounts a dramatic story about his capture and eventual death from his wounds. The apogee of their relationship occurs during his funeral when Danae jumps into Nicholas’ grave and the pallbearers throw dirt on her seemingly intent on burying her on top of her husband’s coffin.
That is just the beginning. After Nicholas’s death, Danae’s father finds a husband for her in another village and another series of gruesome events follow. Murder, imprisonment, betrayal and all the horrors that evil can devise and humanity perpetrate occur and Danae suffers through them.
The Nazi occupation and the Greek Civil War are not just the background of the horrific events that are described. They are the cause and the impetus for almost all that happens. Evil, treachery, suffering, murder and torture burst out with almost no constraints. There is also love and compassion but it is in short supply.
Nedani gives some of the historical background of her story without pulling any punches. She makes no secret of her hatred of the Communist guerrillas. She describes historical events such as the pivotal meeting between the Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas and the Italian Ambassador on October 28, 1940, and Churchill’s visit to Athens on Christmas Eve 1944 during the December uprising. Her detailed renderings of these events and others touched upon throughout the novel may be partly imaginary but she is writing dramatic fiction and is not subject to detailed historical fact-checking.
Nedani accumulates dramatic events but she is somewhat skimpy in developing characters. We learn very little about Danae. She is blonde, pretty, shows courage at times, acts foolishly on other occasions but says nothing when her father finds her a husband, a man whom she has never met. At the beginning she appears very gutsy when she stands up to the Judge who is questioning her about singing in Bulgarian, an outlawed language. Danae retorts that Metaxas has outlawed the performance of Antigone, a play that criticizes authority and the reading of the Funeral Oration of Pericles which praises the virtues of Democracy. That may be true but how a teenager from a mountain village who may have gone to public school knows that defies one’s credulity.
Nedani makes some stylistic choices in her writing that may be considered idiosyncratic or, less charitably, infelicitous. In her eagerness to capture the passions, horrors and evils of the time, Nedani has some run-on sentences that I found unnerving. A period or two would have served the narrative and made the paragraph more readable.
In the same vein, she seems to have an antipathy to the use of the personal pronoun and prefers to repeat needlessly and repetitively the name of the person that she is referring to. She refers to the rebel army as “the DSE communist guerrillas” which is true enough but it could be referred to by different and equally accurate names for the sake of variety. DSE is the Greek acronym for Democratic Army of Greece. Some of these infelicities should have been caught by the editor but were unfortunately left in.
The experiences of World War II and especially the Greek Civil War are etched into the Greek consciousness and their memory is passed from generation to generation. They were told by the participants and then by their offspring as if they happened yesterday. Nedani seems to be one of the heirs to those awful times who needed to expiate her borrowed memories.
As for Danae, we read of her life in the 1950’s with its many reversals but she survives it all. She finally finds the gates of salvation open in a way that thousands of Greeks will recognize. The route led across the Atlantic to Pier 21 at Halifax, Nova Scotia and a long train ride to Toronto’s Union Station. A surprise awaits there but you will have to read the novel to find out what it entails.