Growing up in World War II and the Greek Civil War, and crediting his “life's first horrific memory to Mussolini,” Koubourlis was raised by strict parents who did their best to keep him and his brother out of the kind of mischief that might end up in a book of short stories. Often the boys felt the sting of their father’s belt as a result of their horseplay or innocent ineptitude. Readers will feel the terror of a young boy as his first memory is the Italian bombing of his hometown in Greece, but humor is never far away. (Readers sensitive to material should take note.)
In the book’s second half, the stories build in intensity, exploring individuals’ connectedness to the world and our closest environs, with a pained yet tender story of the adult narrator, in Chile with his wife, tending to a wayward kitten, Grits. Sometimes Cruel concludes with an essay on a song heard in a dream and Koubourlis’s searching thoughts about its meaning. A YouTube link offers readers a chance to hear the melody that Koubourlis describes as “powerful but calm, as if to emphasize that everything is alright, as it should be.” This is an enigmatic book that, for readers of a contemplative bent, will linger in the mind.
Takeaway: Searching, enigmatic memory stories of growing up and living in a violent world.
Comparable Titles: Caitlin Forst’s NDA: An Autofiction Anthology, the Tome Stone’s Summer of My Greek Taverna.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-