The Founder of Govostis Publishers
An insignificant event, the failure of Costas Govostis to the entrance examinations of the "Hellenic" School (today Junior High School) becomes the reason to create the first progressive publishing house in Greece.
Costas Govostis was born in Athens in 1904. He is the son of sir-Giannakis, a virtuous owner of a small pastry shop and Calliope, a vigorous housewife who was wished her last born child–she had another three children–to be properly educated. She enrolled him in one of the few private schools of that time, the school of the Carnaouri brothers. Young Costas graduates from primary school with honours and is being prepared to enter the "Hellenic" public School, while dreaming of University Studies. At this point, the family was still unaware of his faulty eyesight–he was ashamed to admit (later he was diagnosed with genetic cataract). As a result, he fails to copy correctly the subjects of an examination from the blackboard to his paper and is ceremoniously rejected!
The following are typical of that time; his father finds him a job in the Georgiadi and Dimouli merchants of fabrics shop, in Aiolou Street, across the St. Irene's Church.
Every morning, Costas traverses the whole Athens of those days (150.000 inhabitants) to approach the shop, while his father carries on to Adrianou Street, where his pastry shop is. In the evening they return home together and Costas is passionately reading anything printed feel in his hands. He struggles to educate himself on his own and finally manages to learn how to read French.
The young shop employee, however, is not content with reading at home. He carries books to workplace and keeps reading and reading as much as possible sneaked in the basement of the store. He descends there, not to slip by his kind boss, Georgiadis, but because of the dim light that helps his pupils with cataract to broaden and, therefore, see better. Then, an incident occurs which reminds us of Charles Dickens.
His “bad” young colleague lets him on. After a casual inquiry, his “good” boss makes a decision: Costas is given two free hours per day, to read in the basement, in a corner especially arrange, between rolls of fabrics.
Years pass by and Costas Govostis, who is does not serve in military, because of his eyes, becomes a regular patron of the literary and progressive groups of his time. He becomes friends with all young ones who feel intellectual restlessness –those who were later to mark the political and literary history of this country.
Costas Govostis takes a major step by publishing his first book; the "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" by F. Dostoevsky, a small book of 64 pages.
At first, the "publishing house" is housed in one of the rooms of the family house and gradually the books succeed one another. In the adjoining room a small printing shop is also set up, in order to ensure that the printing is done with further attentiveness. The perfectionism of the young publisher is already obvious and blossoms. Most of the titles of the small publishing house are political books. The left ideology of the owner plays a significant role in the selection of titles; the writers are Russians and Marxists, and the topics vary from philosophy to progressive literature.
Costas Govostis marries Helen Evgeniou and have two sons, Gianni and Frangisco.
The publishing house moves from Solomou Street to the centre of Athens, Academias Street 79, at Caningos Square. The place is more spacious, semi-submergence; in addition to the bookshop, it provides an office and an extra room for book-binding, with two employees – one of them is Tylemachos Varikas (brother of the close colleague of Costas, Vassos Varikas).
The small bookshop becomes a pole of attraction for the intellectual community of Athens. Two magazines are published: “The Pioneers” under the direction of Emilio Hourmouzio and “The Voice of the Book”, probably the first Greek bibliographic magazine.
Mimis Caragatsis, Emilios Hourmouzios, Cosmas Politis, Dimitris Glynos, Napoleon Lapathiotis, Angelos Sikelianos, Leon Koukoulas, Andreas Empirikos, Odysseas Elytis, Giorgos Katsimbalis, Giannis Kordatos, Bassilis Rotas, Nikos Engonopoulos, Giannis Ritsos, Nikolaos Poriotis, Galateia Kazantzaki, Varnalis, Elli Alexiou and all the new writers of the time gather in the semi-submergence at Academias Street. They are engaged in long conversations, once peacefully, once intensively, about the literary and political events of that period. On one occasion they become the subject of a humoristic publication of Dimitri Psathas, himself a friend and member of the group. Together, they sue the newspaper which published it, they win the case, and with the money the jury adjudicates, they throw a hilarious party they will remember for many years!
Dictatorship, midway of the 4th of August: The stock of books not burned at Kaningos Square is thrown into the well of the house in Solomou Street. Costas Govostis, however, does not get away with imprisonment of the Metaxa regime. Next year he starts from scratch. With his two close colleagues, Gianni Ritso and Vasso Varika, they plan new publications and with the help of a small loan ensured from some good friends, the new titles gradually make their appearance. They set in circulation books with coloured covers, innovation considered to be very radical at that time.
The shop is moved to Pesmazoglou Street. The country is under Foreign Occupation. But in spite of the hunger, the misery and the censorship, the effort does not come to a rest. The titles succeed one another. Publications become more and more shaby and due to lack of cardboard, and the cover is often made with butcher’s paper.
In order to ensure the survival of his publishing house and his family, Costas Govostis often becomes merchant of old books purchased from old libraries. This method helps his publishing work, as he discovers titles, writers and books he could never imagine. His French are improved, although his eyesight deteriorates.
At the end of the Foreign Occupation, the most productive period of the publishing house begins. Within 13 years, up to 1958, Costas Govostis, as if he knew he was not going to live much longer, dares to take initiatives which change the publishing history of Greece. He starts with a book by Stefan Zweig "Maria Antoinetta". At that time, it was unconceivable to publish a novel of 400 pages. Costas Govostis prints it, and also uses a format considered large at the time (14x21 cm). The book, in spite of all ominous forecasts by his colleagues, becomes an immediate success. The covers are original paintings of the artist Takis Darzenta, permanent collaborator and friend.
The next step is Romain Rolland: 10 volumes of "Jean Christophe", 7 volumes of "The Enchanted Soul". George Pratsikas and Aris Nicoletopoulos, translate respectively. Despite the fact that the majority of the books published are translations, "Fire" by Hadjis and "Sinnephiazei" by Menelaos Loudemis are published.
The beloved friend, Aris Alexandrou, appears and a fateful collaboration gets under way. From E. O' Neil to F. Dostoyevsky.
Perfectionism is at its peak. The books are read, edited and typeset over and over again before publication. A permanent team, including Yannis Ritsos, Sergio Protopappa, Dionysia Bitzileki, Leonidas Zenakos and Notis Panagiotou, have sessions every afternoon in the attic of Solomou Street and examine explicitly every word to be printed. The printers shake in terror.
Costas Govostis has his first heart attack. After long and endless discussions and agreements with Manolis Triantafyllidis, he decides to use a peculiar mono-accent system he had invented. He orders special printing units (letters) with a dot instead of an accent and publishes the first "monotonic" book in Greece, produced by a professional publisher, "My Child Never Grew Up", by Pearl Buck. A big controversy arises: fanatics threaten to break the bookstore windows. The monotonic editions succeed one another and the protested public gradually gets used to it. The complete works of Dostoyevsky are fully published.
Costas Govostis, who despite all advice of his doctors continues to work intensely, dies at the age of 54, in the beloved bookshop at Pesmazoglou Street. His son, Giannis Govostis takes in the business, at the age of 24, while being close to his mother and of great beauty of that time, Helen Govosti, continuing the course his father has scratched.
The publishing house is relocated at Solomou Street 12, from where everything began.
The historic building at Pesmazoglou Street, where the bookstore was located, is demolished for the current “Loggia of Book”.
The bookstore and the publishing house are located at 21 Zoodochou Pigis Street. Every Saturday morning Giannis Govostis, establishes the basement as a meeting-point of new authors and friends. There, with the support of tsipouro, coffee and snacks, endless discussions and hilarious jokes take place. Old and in demand translations of classical authors and works of ancient Greek literature keep being reprinted.
Grandson, Costas Govostis, completes his studies and military service. He continues the family tradition and he is exclusively occupied with the publications. Following the publishing procession, he adds the new sector of scientific books, introducing to the Greek public great and contemporary scientists-authors, such as: Roger Penrose, Guy Lazorthes, Tim Berners Lee, Alan Guth, John Searle, Paul Churchland and others.
Giannis Govostis publishes the History of the Balkans of Georges Castellan’s, with great success establishing it this way a new history series, still being published, including important authors, such as: John Julius Norwich, David Irving, Bernard Lewis, Sture Linner, Steven Runciman, Heinz Richter, Jean-Paul Roux, T.W. Hanes, Michael Hickey, Pavlos Petridis etc. The literary series is enriched with new authors, such as: Ernesto Sabato, Joseph Heller, Pierre Pelot, Russell Martin, Barry Cunliffe, Thea Halo, Robert Finn, Waris Dirie, Mikael Niemi, Oriana Falacci, Per Olov Enquist, Jose Luis Sampedro, Julia Kristeva, Innes Hammond, Mary Reed.
Tsipouro proved to be not only a way of entertainment. Eftichis Bitsakis and his team (Christos Alexiou, Eratosthenis Kapsomenos, Giorgos Zotos, Giorgos Rousis, Alexandros Chrisis) put into circulation the magazine Outopia, aspirant to attempt a creative intervention to the contemporary field of ideas in our country. The magazine is still published today under the direction of Eftichis Bitsakis.
The quarterly literary magazine, about theory and review of literature, Themata Logotechnias (Greek State Award 2014) is put into circulation under the direction of Christos Alexiou. Literature is considered as an act of resistance to the decline of values in modern times. The magazine is still being published today. Various features have been published on: Odysseas Elytis,Giannis Ritsos, Angelos Sikelianos, Constantinos Cavafy, Kostis Palamas, Giorgos Seferis, Mitsos Alexandropoulos, Iakovos Kampanellis, Pantelis Prevelakis, Nikos Kazantzakis, Fiodor Dostoyevsky, Miguel de Cervantes, Maria Lampadaridou-Pothou, Orestis Alexakis, Giorgos Michailidis.
Giannis Govostis, who served for many decades as chairman of the Publishers of Book Association, is awarded for his contribution by the Federation of Greek Book Publishers on May 16.
The bookstore and the publishing house are relocated to 73 Zoodochou Pigis Street. Unfortunately, Giannis Govostis will not make it to take delight in it.
On January 8, Giannis Govostis passes away; leaving a big void. The publishing tradition continues his brother, Frangiskos, and his son, Costas. They pay a great attention to the choice of titles to be published and to the correct and deliberate translations.
On May 9 the continuous 80 years of publishing work were celebrated, organizing instead of an reception, a unique seminar contributed to the author with whom everything begun, the greatest of them all Fyodor Dostoyevsky . It was unique not only because it was the first time that such a seminar took place in Greece, but also because of the validity and the importance of the Greeks and the Russian guest speakers. which were and remain unique and indisputable.
During the same period the authors’ list is enriched with: Robert Finn, Constantinos Fragos, Vincent Delacroix, Edward Whittemore, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. A special reference should be made to the autobiographical trilogy of Arturo Barea, The Forging of a Rebel, as well as to the work of Anthony Beevor D-Day.
Roger Penrose’s very important book The Road to Reality is published after a long period of hard work.
While the publication of the quarterly magazine Themata Logotehnias is continued in spite of the hard times, the crucial matter of poetry is promoted with the publication of a new magazine, Ta pοiitika, under the direction of K.G. Papageorgiou and Titika Dimitroulia, as well as with the homonymous series of poetry collections which gives the opportunity to new poets to express themselves. Furthermore, Not Even my Name, the story of the well-known grandmother from Pontos is published in English.
The publishing of remarkable books continues with Zoi kai Pepromeno, a work of monumental importance, comparable to Tolstoy's work, by Vasilis Grossman, who spent three years as a Red Star correspondent of war in the Red Army, while he was one of the first correspondents who entered the extermination camps of Medanek and Treblinka. Following the long publishing tradition of works referring to the historical period of the Second World War and noting the lack of Greek bibliography in the subject of First World War, we publish the classic work of Hugh Strachan.
Dostoevsky’s works are republished in the classical translations of Aris Alexandrou, Koralia Makri and Athina Sarantidi, in new, re-typeset editions at reduced prices. At the same time, researchers and readers are given the opportunity to have access to a modern digital library of the magazine Themata Logotehnias, which numbers more than 1,500 articles, reviews and surveys.
The last few years our list of writers has been enriched among others with: Roman Garri, Martin van Cravel, Winston Churchill, Vassilis Vasilikos, Mitsos Alexandropoulos, Zoi Samaras, Maria Lambadaridou-Pothou, Socrates L. Skartsis, Ilias Gris, Giorgos Rousis and Nikos Tabakis and others.
Frangiskos Govostis passes away. Since 1958 and up to this date, we, the descendants, try to continue with all our power to live up to the high standards established by the founder.
Govostis Publishers complete 90 years of restless cultural work.
The publishing of significant books continues with Antony’s Beevor The Second World War and Τim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, The History of the CIA. We are planning to republish the Nights and Dawns and What remains of Mitsos Alexandropoulos, a creator of unusual dimensions in the Greek literary tradition.