Nikos Kavvadias was born in 1910 in a small town in Manchuria close to Harbin, to Greek parents from the island of Cephalonia. When he was still a small child, his family returned to Greece. They remained for some years in Cephalonia, and then, from 1921 to 1932, moved to Piraeus, where Kavvadias completed his schooling. It was while at school that he wrote his first poems. In 1921 he began working in a shipping office and a few months later took to see on a cargo ship. For a number of years he continued working at sea, eventually returning home penniless and exhausted. He then began training to become a qualified radio operator. He had originally wanted to become a ship's master but he had already spent too long at sea to start this long career path. He was awarded his radio operator's diploma in 1939. But then the war intervened to and he had to join the Greek forces on the Albanian front. Subsequently he was stuck in Athens during the years of the Nazi occupation. He eventually went back to sea in 1944. He stayed in this job until he retired in 1974. He died three months later from a stroke, on 10 February 1975.
The Shift is Kavvadias only novel. His collections of poetry - Marabou (1933), Fog (1947) and Traverso (1975) - and his short stories - Li, Of War and On My Horse (1987) - are all published by Agra.



(224 pages, 20.5X14 cm.)

The publication by Kavvadias of The Shift in 1954, before ceasing from further publishing for another 20 years, marked the beginning of a stylistic exploration. The Shift is at one and the same time novel, poem, and reverie.
On the surface, it is the story of the journey. On the China Sea in an old, leaky cargo boat, they are heading towards the port of Shantou.
In essence, however, it revolves around conversation during the unending hours of the seamen's shifts. The stoker, the radio operator (this was Kavvadias' own office as a seaman) and the captain contemplates their lot. They perceive their life as a curse; but they appear to accept this curse and investigate its implications. For them, unhappiness is terra firma. There is a strange dialectic of love and hate with their ship: they are both captive and rootless at one and the same time, and they loathe anything that could possibly stop their voyage, that could, in fact, liberator.
The anecdotes and stories, whether comic or terrifying, long or short, are all fascinating. The radio operator is the one that tells the longest tales, in the first person, as we feel the person of the author himself gradually taking over the narrative of the novel. Gradually this technique leads to a kind of lyricism: wishful thinking and idle dreams are expressed through true poetry in prose. The novel, in the end, becomes a kind of confession.

(Michel Saunier, from his introduction to the French translation of the novel)






German, French and Spanish editions of Kavvadias' Shift.