“I tried to open my eyes, hoping to stir up enough courage to face the frightening commotion just outside our window. It was no use. My imagination ran wild as I conjured up all kinds of horrors unfolding out in the darkness.”
Those were the words of an eight-year-old boy living in a small Greek mountain village in the 1950s and trying with his brothers to comprehend the booming noise outside that turned out to be gunshots.
It’s the defining moment in Better Dead Than Divorced (Hard Work Publications), the true story of a forced marriage turned sour and ending in murder. The young boy is Lukas Konandreas, who grew up in the village and as an adult is author of this strange tale about his family.
“It has taken me years to piece together this story to my satisfaction,” says Konandreas. “I didn’t want filial love to blind me to the truth.”
“My family, immediate and extended, reacted strongly to my research. ‘It’s a story that must be told,’ some said, ‘for Panayota [his cousin] if for no other reason.’ Others were less supportive. ‘Leave the dead alone,’ they said. ‘Let them lie peacefully in the cemetery of St. Anthony.’”
Konandreas conducted more than 160 interviews to piece together the words that were spoken and the events as they happened. He also used newspaper accounts and court records.
Hollywood could not invent a better antagonist than George Nitsos. Outwardly, he had it all: good looks, money, charisma, power, influence and connections. “He was the friendly introvert who knew all about life in the big city, the sophisticate who could tell a seemingly serious story with a straight face until delivering the punch line.”
When it is discovered that George had sex with Panayota, a beautiful young village girl, her family, led by her cousin Thanasis (and father of the author), forces George to marry the girl.
Yet the village girls, writes Konandreas, still couldn’t resist George’s boyish charm. And he certainly wasn’t going to let marriage stand in the way of his indiscretions.
Friends encouraged Panayota to leave George, but she felt divorce would bring the greatest shame to her in the village. “Better dead than divorced,” she says.
Even though the basic storyline is clear upfront, one still can’t help but question who is going to kill whom.
George from the outset seems to think life would be less complicated and more freewheeling with Panayota out of the way. Ever the devious one, he tries to bring innocent people into the plot to kill his wife to help cover his own tracks.
While the first half of the narrative focuses on life in the Greek village and the dynamics between George and Panayota and George and everyone else, the latter half is dedicated to the trial and the justice system. To the very end, the conniving George tries to use his influence to squirm out of trouble.
Konandreas by practice is a physician. Yet his personal stake and passion drive the research and the writing. The raw, basic descriptions and dialogue reflect not so much an artist at his craft as a man who has lived amid a remarkable drama, even if he was too young to piece it together from memory.
Romance. Marriage. Scandal. Murder. As we all know, sometimes the truth can be stranger than fiction.
Better Dead Than Divorced is available for purchase.
About Lukas Konandreas:
Lukas Konandreas MD, one of four children, was born in Kupaki, a small mountain village in central Greece. After graduating from the Medical School at the University of Athens, he immigrated to Toronto. He practiced emergency medicine in Sacramento, CA, for about six years and then moved to Stamford, CT, where he organized an Urgent Care Center, which he as directed for 30 years. He is married to Georgia, a Doctor of Psychology, and has two sons.