cover image The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat

Sophia Nikolaidou, trans. from the Greek by Karen Emmerich. Melville House (Random, dist.), $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61219-384-7

An ennui-addled high school student investigates a decades-old murder mystery in this funny, heartfelt, and intellectually potent novel, Greek novelist Nikolaidou’s first publication in the U.S. Alternating between the mid-20th century and the present day, and set largely in Thessaloniki, the story follows Minas Georgiou, a Hellenic Holden Caulfield who flouts the expectations of his family by refusing to take the country’s traditional year-end university entrance exams. Instead, he accepts an assignment from his teacher, Marinos Soukiouroglou, a former academic who “could bring an entire class to its knees with a single glance.” The assignment concerns the 1948 murder of an American journalist, Jack Talas, who was reporting on postwar tensions in Greece between communists and the right wing. Many believe the supposed culprit, Manolis Gris, was falsely convicted to appease Americans (and secure their continued aid). As Minas digs deeper, he finds surprising connections between Gris’s story and his own: Evelina Dinopoulou, a young woman he has a crush on, is the granddaughter of Gris’s lawyer; and Minas’s father, a newspaper editor, once tried his own hand at solving the case. Based on the real-life 1940 murder of journalist George Polk, the novel, featuring an array of colorful supporting characters, argues that history is less a streamlined narrative than a shifting kaleidoscope of perspectives—“riddled with qualifications, asterisks, interpretations, clashes of opinion.” (Feb.)