iris literary agency


Written by

Joke First Award of Greek Academy 2013 

A young man has a friendly chat with his deceased grandmother.

An office clerk turns into a stapler.

Poet Francois Villon makes a fresh start.

Yiorgos becomes a pensioner.

Seventeen short stories on the blurred borderline between reality and its opposites; stories drawn from the mountainous mainland of Northern Greece, as well as stories on the under-aged adults of the city; stories bathing on the shores of an artificial lake.


Some of the characters in the “Joke” struggle to overcome the back-country harsh life; others struggle to face the fact that they have simply become adults. All of them attempt some kind of escape; some succeed, others don’t.

Roughly half of the book’s stories evolve in the vein of the American Dirty realism school, with an extra drop of dark humor; the rest take on a dreamlike approach reminiscent of the Magic realism style of the Latin American novelists. The Greek short story tradition, highlighting rural life, is also a rich source of inspiration.

“Joke”, awarded Best Short Story Collection of the Year (2012) by Anagnostis Magazine, is a collection of stories that reads like a bitter joke on life’s main certainty: death. 

Giannis Palavos Joke, which was published in France this March by Quidam editeur, translated by Michel Volkovitch, has been received, in only three months and despite bookshop closures due to the pandemic, with warm reviews by the French press: renowned newspapers, such as Libération, L'Humanité and Le Temps, along with literary magazines and blogs have written rave reviews, claiming that this book is “essential” and its author is “a master of the short story, that one must discover as soon as possible”, comparing his work with the likes of Jaume Cabré and Etgar Keret.

Nefeli, 2012, 108p.

French and Bulgarian rights sold, English extracts available


Praise for the “Joke” in the Greek Press


Extraordinary stories […] A charismatic short story writer.

Kathimerini, 19.5.2012


Mark the name; 32-year-old Palavos will grow into a prominent figure of Greek letters.

Ta Nea, 18.8.2012


A marvelous book for readers fascinated with the irrational.

Athens Voice, 8.5.2012


A spectacular showcase of talent and mastery […] Some of the collection’s stories can be easily included in every anthology of modern Greek short fiction.

Kathimerini, 1.7.2012


A by all means talented writer.

Lifo, 8.5.2012


Realism, modernism and post-modernism have been profoundly absorbed by these stories […] This is the work of a skilled and painstakingly practiced craftsman.

Anagnostis, 27.6.2013


The literary revelation of the year […] Valuable water on the dry soil of contemporary Greek prose.

Ta Nea, 15.12.2012


Stories of macabre sensitivity and grotesque reverie by a disciplined writer.

To Vima, 14.4.2012


And the hits keep on coming in France for Joke!

Below is an array of reviews from the French press:


“These are short stories that reveal an original talent in his ability to create atmosphere, characters and foremost in structuring plot. No story is alike. All stories unfold in Greece, specifically in North Greece, without losing in their universality. This can be seen from the very first story of the collection: 21 lines that outline, in few words – curiously prophetic for our time during the pandemic –, how nowadays the digital exceeds over the human. We smile and continue to the next story with great interest which continues undeterred until the last page.”


“Palavos loves his characters, old and young, without sidelining animals. And even if the future for his characters is bleak, the author modifies the framework, fluctuating accordingly its focus and uses discreet narrative devices, giving the plot unexpected twists with abundant humour. We applaud his ability to end skillfully his stories, which exclude any superfluous chatter so common in modern literature.”


“Giannis Palavos is a master of the short story that one must discover as soon as possible. The Greek author exhibits a humour so carefree and a viewpoint so precise, in a line of short stories with a vast range – from the metaphysical to the tragical – where these 17 short stories compile a succession of happy narrative moments very unlike one another. Palavos’ pessimism never becomes cynical, and his view on human weakness remains always bittersweet.”

Le Temps

“If this is a joke, as Palavos’ short story collection claims, then it’s a caustic, patient and anxious one. There is something from Patricia Highsmith in these stories which, even though they are aloof, they are razor sharp, where the absurd emerges unexpectedly, where opposites are reconciled, and people use tenderness with box gloves. Palavos’ protagonists constantly return to whatever has been shattered within them by time. This is an original voice, where awe is entwined with humility ever so quietly, with painstaking attention to detail. The reader is drawn to its world almost without realizing it.”


“The collection of short stories in Joke can be read in one sitting. Giannis Palavos knows how to illuminate, with few words, the essence of the uttermost detail of human life, what we never might have thought of, but after discovering, seems quintessential. The author is greatly talented in creating an image which at first may seem totally unfamiliar, but simultaneously almost-familiar, as it allows us to understand what we were feeling without realizing it. In part, this is the reason we are re-humanized little by little, page by page through Joke. Each story feeds and enriches our most inner and unspoken thoughts. It is perhaps this collection’s boundless wealth, of stories written in simple prose, that drives us to plunge deep into each character’s human nature, ending with our own. It is, therefore, the re-discovering of the pleasure of reading that speaks directly to our hearts. From this point, Joke is an essential book today. “

En Attendant Nadeau

“An eccentric sense of humour which for the most part derives, naturally and gradually, from the surreal, to the fantastical and paradoxical. Such humour can only be viewed favorably by the reader as it is surrounded not only by the author’s all-encompassing love for his unfortunate protagonists, but also by the simplicity and preciseness of his writing, which, nevertheless, does not reject occasional stylistic experimentation. A writing in which its poetry shines through and through with great economy.”

En Attendant Nadeau

“Jokes that touch the divine, comic and tragic, in which the author’s vast tenderness for his characters is shown by the elegant humility of his humour.”

Les Notes Bibliographiques

“Palavos’ writing is meticulously organized so as to simply narrate a story, but they are not simple stories per say. The short story is not the poor relation of the novel. On the contrary, through Joke we come to realize how much we can comprehend through this genre, as well as the wealth that the short form can offer. Palavos is as capable as a novelist who persuades the reader to accept his fictional world and as a poet who makes us enjoy the brilliant and sometimes playful writing.”


“Palavos tackles tragic themes (poverty, failure, unfortunate love stories, violence, abuse of minors, death) in a paradoxical way and with a talent manifested through his use of sharp, thunderous, bizarre and enigmatical endings. The characters are placed in reality without completely being part of it. Palavos broadens the scope of possibility with a light and brisk writing without attempting to create an over the top digression to the fantastical: just a subtle push is enough for the doors to open into a new viewpoint.”

Le Présent Défini

“The worlds’ paradoxical playfulness in 17 sharp short stories, where reality is inseparable to its own demise. Joke, beneath its metaphysical surface and bittersweet humour, talks about Greek society and our common fate, extinction. Through the short story form, and what that entails, aside their sharp conclusion, which is always skillfully done, Palavos succeeds in creating a reality so incredible as the reality which we construe as our own. Joke attests to his genuine talent to create stories and, foremost, to immerse the reader within them. Providing a considerably flattering comparison, we would note that Palavos’ stories have a tone of ironic melancholy, whose skill is not far off from that of Jaume Cabré in Winter Journey or in Falling Darkness.”

La Viduité

“The brief extent of the stories, with their full of confidence attitude, are the most elegant elements of Palavos writing: there is no unnecessary noise, there is no fat, but an economy of form that never dilutes, but on the contrary grants him the title of a great storyteller, who handles with the same easiness clean-cut observation, tender emotion and full of tension plot.”


English translator Karen Van Dyck’s note on the “Joke”:

Giannis Palavos’s collection of short stories entitled “Joke”(which is a sort of joke in itself since the name Palavos means “silly” in Greek) received a great deal of attention for its language. The easygoing narration of these seventeen stories about everyday life in Athens and other parts of Greece is telegraphed by the most economical expressions. Almost minimalist. Agricultural terms and student argot are evenly scattered through the text, as if country and city have no place being in different places anymore. American English, the language Palavos prefers to translate, with its subject-verb-object word order seems some kind of excuse for seeing what happens if one places things carefully whether an elevator in a shaft or a repeated phrase at the beginning, middle, and end of a sentence. Much the way a translation functions in its new context this collection turns Greek fiction into a reflection on the impossibility of anything purely national. We are all from elsewhere and so are our stories. But transformation and channeling don’t stop at language. Gender too is in crisis. Not since Kostas Taksis’s “Third Wedding” has Greek literature given us such a sense of how men can write women. Is it silly to have a guy writing about this girl with her period, changing her sanitary napkin in the middle of a field in some backwoods town in Greece? Is it silly if a guy expressed his maternal instinct with a pig called Maria? Yes and no. Like all of Palavos’s stories the verdict has yet to be decided. We don’t know if telling stories that are American and Greek with a bit of Europe thrown in, or are about boys who act like girls are silly or terribly serious. Just like we don’t know what to think about Greece today. What Palavos’s stories give us, though, and here there is no waiting game, is the excuse to experiment, however modestly, and let language do the work we can’t do any other way, at least not yet.

Palavos Yannis

Giannis Palavos was born in Velvento, Kozani in Greece in 1980. He studied Journalism at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki and Arts Administration at the Panteion University in Athens. He is the author of two short story collections (“True Love and other stories”, 2007, and “Joke”, 2012) and the co-author of a graphic novel (“The Corpse”, 2011).

His short stories have won prizes from the British Council (2005, Best short story award at the British Council Young Writers’ National Contest) and Anagnostis Magazine.

His translations of Matthew Arnold, Katherine Mansfield, Edgar Lee Masters, Guillevic, Ray Bradbury, Willa Cather, Miroslav Holub, Donald Justice, Langston Hughes, Saki and Tobias Wolff have appeared in numerous Greek journals and web publications. 

More About Palavos Yannis

Latest from Palavos Yannis

More in this category: « With Eyes Wide Open The child »