9/16/19

Roberto Bazlen - I think it's no longer possible to write books. That's why I don't write books — Almost all books are footnotes, inflated into volumes (volumina). I write only footnotes.



Slikovni rezultat za Roberto Bazlen, Notes Without a Text and Other Writings,
Roberto Bazlen, Notes Without a Text and Other Writings, Trans. by Alex Andriesse, Dalkey Archive Press, 2019. 

An advisor to Italian publishing houses, a translator of Freud and Jung, a friend of Montale and Calvino, Roberto Bazlen was nothing if not a literary man, but kept his writings to himself. Here, translated into English for the first time, the reader will discover Bazlen’s private oeuvre: an unfinished novel, The Sea Captain, which bears comparison with the fiction of Kafka and Beckett; a selection of entries from his notebooks dealing with topics as various as whether or not there is an “animal Jahweh” and the aesthetic limitations of the cinema; a trio of essays on his native city of Trieste; and a sampling of his editorial letters. Notes Without a Text is an introduction to the work of one of the unknown masters of twentieth-century European literature.


Omnibus edition of works by an Italian writer who might have been a modernist master had he not been more intent on sowing literary confusion.
Calasso, who introduces this collection of texts by Trieste-born translator and editor Bazlen (1902-1965), gives a rather murky account of the centrifugal tendencies of a writer who wrote but did not publish: “Preparing for emptiness…is an abnormal occurrence—it always has been—and not only that: the modes of existence most prevalent at present teach us to forget even the possibility of emptiness.” Accepting Calasso’s contention that Bazlen made himself right at home in the void, the texts brought together here vary in intent and quality. The lead work is an odd novel centering on a sea captain who is never at home in the world and especially not in his own home, where he feels untoward urges toward his wife: “I really have to hit her.“ In the company of strange players with names like Peg-Leg and the One-Eyed Man, he sails from harbor to harbor, meeting other stock characters like "an Oriental,” "the Gypsy Woman,” and “the negress,” who do pretty much as they would in an old Popeye cartoon, allowing for extra helpings of surrealism and non sequitur (“the Captain was close to death, but he was awfully cultured"). Included are sketches of characters like The Cabin Boy, who says to the Captain, “It would be unfair not to take you adequately into account—and besides I’m indebted to you for a couple of pesos (and a flask of wine too).” The hallucinatory mode prevails. Bazlen’s essays and notes on writers such as Italo Svevo and Habsburg-era Triestine culture are more straightforward ("it was a musical city…where everyone sang”), and his witty editorial reports come as a relief after the unrelenting peculiarity of the more “literary” writing. All in all, though, it’s a slog.
A puzzling, incomplete set of notes toward a text; of some interest to students of postwar European literature. - Kirkus Reviews



FROM THE SEA CAPTAIN (a novel)
The sea captain’s house was old and comfortable. There were hydrangeas in the windows, a canary was singing in its cage, the captain’s wife was sitting at her sewing machine, a dog was playing with a bone by the door.
The captain didn’t spend much time at home. He was almost always at sea, and at sea he sat alone in his big cabin, he studied nautical charts, he fumbled with his precision instruments, he read little-known books whose trails he followed from port to port―otherwise, he stood on the deck and scanned the horizon, for hours on end, with his telescope. If he arrived in a port where he’d never been before―but there were so few!―he immediately began wandering aimlessly about, on the steps he chatted up the fishwives, he tasted unfamiliar wines in tucked-away taverns, he went nosing about, through dark and twisting alleys, in the dusty shops of the junk dealers. By the time he went back aboard, he had seen everything, he had taken note of everything, he had formed an idea of everything, and in his cabin he opened the packages full of plants, stones, books, bottles of wine, and wooden statuettes. But, for one reason or another, these things were never the right things, and this made him more and more restless. He was sometimes overwhelmed by a sudden nostalgia for his wife and his life at home; when he returned, he would kiss his wife, he would pet his dog, and he would listen patiently to all the things that had happened in his absence; but his eyes wandered impatiently out the window, and his mouth hardened whenever ships, in the distance, passed by on the sea. And always he went back to his table by the globe, and set it slowly spinning.
p>Once, he had stayed at sea for longer than usual. When he came back home, his wife gave him a kiss and her breath was sweet. With a smile, she said:

“I’ve had to wait for you such a long time. While I was waiting, I sewed you a pair of red trousers. Let me show them to you.”
And her voice was clear.
The captain was always very courteous. He thanked his wife and glanced at the trousers. But to himself he said: “My wife doesn’t understand me. I’m a sea captain, the trunks in my cabin are crammed full of perfectly ironed uniforms―white for summer, blue for winter―and here, in the wardrobe, hangs my black suit, the one I wear to weddings and funerals. What am I supposed to do with red trousers?” He locked up the trousers in the black chest, but he sensed that something was wrong, and he began slowly spinning the globe. The next day he spoke a few ritual words to his wife, gave her a quick kiss goodbye, then fled. And he stayed at sea for even longer than he had the last time.
But this time his wife did not sit at the sewing machine.
“Why should I sew?” she asked herself. “He didn’t even bother to look at the trousers; he just locked them up in the black chest, after I’d taken so much trouble with them. He doesn’t understand me anymore.”
She opened the chest, ran her hands over the trousers, and felt very sad. The day was empty, she began rummaging through the chest and found a box of cigars. And she thought disdainfully:
“If he doesn’t want to wear my trousers, then I’ll smoke his cigars.”
And she lit a cigar, stared out the window, and blew reeking black smoke out toward the sea, which smelled of salt.
In those days, the One-Eyed Man had come to live in the city. Passing by the Captain’s house, he looked up with his single eye at the woman in the window and said:
“Women who smoke cigars play cards too!”
“Certainly,” the woman answered. “Come up then and we’ll play together.”
And soon they were sitting down to play every day. The woman won and smoked her cigar, the One-Eyed Man lost and wore a look of contentment.
When, after a long absence, the Captain returned, he gave his wife a kiss, but her breath was no longer sweet, and her voice had grown hoarse. “My wife has become a stranger,” the Captain thought, but he said nothing and continued to act as courteously as ever. Except he fled even sooner and stayed at sea even longer than he had the last time.
One day, in the harbor tavern, the One-Eyed Man told the Craterface what he was doing with the Captain’s wife.
“You ought to bring her down here one of these days,” said the Craterface. “Women who smoke cigars and play cards drink grappa too.”
And soon the woman found herself sitting in the tavern every day, smoking cigars and playing cards. She went home late in the evenings, staggering drunkenly, and in the morning she lazed in bed.
When the Captain finally returned, the hydrangeas had withered in the windows. Nevertheless, he gave his wife a kiss, but her breath stank of tobacco and grappa and her voice had gone gravelly. He said to himself: “This time, not even for form’s sake, there’s no way I’m giving her a kiss goodbye.” And he went away again at once, and he stayed at sea even longer than he had the last time.




Roberto Bazlen was very much part of Italian literary circles but, while numerous translations -- notably of Freud and Jung -- by him appeared, none of his own writings were published during his lifetime -- and in his Introduction editor and translator Roberto Calasso even goes so far as to explain that it is: "a part -- and a decisive part -- of Bazlen's work not to have produced any work".
       In one of his notebooks here Bazlen suggests:
I think it's no longer possible to write books.
That's why I don't write books —
Almost all books are footnotes, inflated into volumes (volumina).
I write only footnotes.
       Elsewhere, he suggests: "At best we play at being Novalis" -- the author of two never completed novels --, and while Bazlen does seem to have long played at trying to shape a larger work of fiction (consisting of more than footnotes ...) it remains fragmentary. This volume includes the pieces -- ranging from fairly extensively worked-out chapters to small fragments -- of that work, the would-be novel 'The Sea Captain', as well as other notebook-fragments -- including the 'Notes without a Text' from which this volume takes its name, as well as some forty-odd 'Editorial Letters', brief book evaluations on behalf of publishers, suggesting whether or not these works were worth publishing.
       Bazlen was born in Trieste -- then (in 1902), as he notes in a piece 'On Trieste', still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so that his formative years comprised: "sixteen years of Austria, then emancipation, and then, until 1934, sixteen years of Italy". The city was, he argues, not: "a source of any great creative value", but it was: "an excellent sounding board, a city of uncommon seismographicity", and he certainly is a product of that culture -- reflected also in his bilingual writing, in both German and Italian.
       The fragmentary novel and the 'Notes without a Text' were largely written in German, and later translated into Italian by Calasso; Alex Andriesse, translating from Calasso's versions, explains in his Afterword that:

The state of Bazlen's notebooks and papers, which were found in a suitcase after his death and have never been published in a definitive German edition, makes this double translation necessary.
       (I don't quite see the logic here, but .....)
       Andriesse adds:

     Though I sympathize with those readers educated to distrust translations of translations, I'd also say that Bazlen is peculiarly well-suited to a two-leg journey into English. His writings, especially the novel and the notes, gesture beyond language. He was no cultist of the mot juste. As a reader, he cared much more for literature that handled what he called "the great themes" than for "Bovaryist" fetishists of style. Bazlen's language is rather pure energy, and as such designed for travel.
       In the (ultimate if never final) form it has been left, Bazlen made a strong start to 'The Sea Captain', which begins fairly straightforwardly: it looks like the beginning of a novel. The story begins (and remains) a bit vague -- a Captain keeps going out to sea, he disappoints his wife by not appreciating the red trousers she sewed him, his left-behind wife begins going her own way while he's away -- and he remains long away, on trips of sameness, for all their variety. At one point, Bazlen writes: "It was absolutely impossible to go on this way, something had to happen !" -- which goes for both the novel and the Captain.
       Eventually, the novel doesn't so much unfold as fragment. Bazlen tries variations on some themes: seduction by a Siren, the experience of being swallowed by a whale, or the Captain finding himself on an island. The drunk Captain tells his tales of Sirens and whales but complains of his audience: "You've all lost your imagination, you stopped believing in voyages in the bellies of whales a long time ago"; when they say he should describe it to them words essentially fail him too:

     "How was it ?" he winced. "How was it ? How was it ? It was dark ... dark ... dark ..."
       The story spins apart, and Bazlen tries to pull in the pieces, repeating variations, fragments that eventually are not much more than lists, the building blocks, de- and re-structured without him able to put them anywhere near together. He offers the tantalizing outlines of what he means and wants to do, but can't get past mere outline:
A passage where
                     the Wife
                     the Burgomaster's Daughter
                     the Helmsman's wife
                     the Sirens
                     the Gypsy Woman
                     (in advance) the Innkeeper's wife
are a single figure
       He spells out some of his scenes and meanings -- blueprints that he means to build on, but barely gets to:
Advertisements for Coca-Cola (as surrogate for pornographic photos) (Peg-leg no longer takes out the photographs, but stares at women in bathing suits) (the decadence of the Sirens)

"Ah-ha ! I was helmless, I was the widow of the Helmsman — now I have another helmsman ..."

When the Captain sees the advertisements, he recognized in them the Sirens degenerated and trivialized
       There are wonderful, promising bits here:
Men are small, where in the world today is there an Alexander whom you can ask not to stand in the way of your sun — how are you supposed to overcompensate for your inferiority ? Hence the mass, he grows furious with the mass, and suddenly discovers that he is alone —
       But it is, ultimately quite a scatter, a fiction he can't bring to cohere.
        The 'Notes without a Text' lack even that would-be foundation of a novel to them -- but that's hardly a drawback. While not just a random assemblage -- there is some order to some of the pieces, many grouped together by some of his subjects and interests ('Buddha', 'Noise', etc.), and there are some slightly longer pieces, on Italo Svevo and on Trieste, for example -- they are a multitude of building blocks, pieces suggesting more that he never got around (or found himself able) to expand on.
       In some cases it is distillation, in others just a (for now) shorthand -- as when, under 'Literature' he offers:

Shakespeare — world — drama — unlimited power — the pariah.
Balzac — society — novel — unlimited wealth — the poor.
       There are some inspired formulations -- "The Greek gods, atomized like so many gnocchi" -- and a few headscratchers:
The Hitlerjugend as necessary counterweight to:
              Pavese
              Sunset Boulevard
       And there's already some of the literary assessment that then dominates the final collection, of 'Editorial Letters', as when he considers the Trieste of his childhood, between (Germanic but here also Slovenian flavored) Austria-Hungary and Italy:
     I see the particular tension between two different cultural configurations particularly in a Triestine poet called Teodoro [Theodor] Däubler, whose name you must know. A cosmic cultural outpouring of visions from a shoreless river, and, on the other hand, a need for narrow, angular forms, which produced a quite peculiar screeching, which condemns to failure the work of this man who was one of the greatest visionaries, almost (almost) on a level with Blake and Lautréamont.
       (Däubler is best-known for his monumental (1200-page) verse-epic Das Nordlicht; Arno Schmidt was a great admirer.)

       The final third of this volume is taken up by the 'Editorial Letters', one- or two-page reports on books Italian publishers were (or should be ...) considering. These are very much personal opinion-pieces, Bazlen taking into account their commercial prospects but on the whole more interested in literary quality and significance -- and acknowledging throughout that these are very much his feelings on the works.
       There are close to four dozen books that he covers. They include works by quite a few American authors -- including Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine -- and an interesting selection of non-fiction, including Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years (approvingly), Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy (a book "by a small-scale maniac" that, though he found it "confused and mediocre", does offer enough that he (very) grudgingly recommended it), and Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (which he hated: they should pick any page at random and then: "tell me if Adelphi can publish such a cup of swill ! (A bucket is more like it -- the first thing that set my teeth on edge was a metallic screeching)"; they didn't, by the way, the first Italian translation only coming out sixteen years later, from Einaudi -- a rare really bad call by Bazlen: think what you will of the Kuhn, it is an essential work of recent times).
       The longest report is the first, from 1951, on Musil's The Man without Qualities; Bazlen appreciates its qualities but feels obligated to warn the publisher, too; playing devil's advocate, he has four main arguments (that he then expounds on) that speak against publishing it:

The novel is:

     1) too long
     2) too fragmentary
     3) too slow (or tedious, or difficult, or whatever you want to call it)
     4) too Austrian
       Still, he's much more enthusiastic about it than one of the other (too-)long novels he tackles, William Gaddis' The Recognitions, which strikes him as: "a very good fake made by an exceptionally vicious forger". It's not for him -- but he's willing to grant: "the possibility that it's a book to do, and one with a fairly good financial prognosis".
       The books he considers are almost all European and (North) American; an exception is Sadegh Hedayat's
The Blind Owl, featured in two of the letters and a work about which he says: "for many years, this is the only book that really shook me up".
       Bazlen was no fan of the nouveau roman, not knowing what to do with something like Alain Robbe-Grillet's The Voyeur:

Robbe-Grillet is one of the many (almost everyone) who are paving the way for the Third World War; and from a culture reduced to this state, there's nothing left to do but emigrate.
       The rare exception is Franz Tumler's Der Mantel -- surprising even Bazlen ("This seems to be a contradiction: it's a very recent German novel and yet it's readable"). He does emphasize that it is: "a modest book (in the best sense of the word "modest")" but does consider it "the only decent nouveau roman" -- and finds one chapter: "that is stupendous"; he urges the Einaudi editor to: "Definitely do it, even with the risk it won't catch on". (They didn't; the book wasn't published in Italian until almost three decades later, in 1990.)
       Bazlen can be enthusiastic, when the work warrants it -- "I would say absolutely YES!!!" to Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke (a good call) -- and only occasionally does his judgment seem a bit rushed or perhaps premature, such as finding Christopher Burney's Solitary Confinement: "the only defining book of the Second World War I've come across, and the only one I've responded to with my whole being".
       Occasionally he'll push for a work he recognizes as flawed, if there's enough to it: six pages of Blanchot's The Space of Literature are enough for him to sign on, and: "perhaps it's a bad book, but it's the bad book of a REAL writer" he says in judging William March's The Looking-Glass: "it's just a hair away from being a masterpiece. Do it and launch it". (Oh to have a reader's report of March's The Bad Seed from Bazlen .....)
       If he dates himself at times in his reading (and preferences), there's also great depth to it: in praise of Sologub's The Petty Demon Bazlen points out:

Think how unreadable probably the greatest fiction writer of that era has become: Pontoppidan
       Despite a recent revival of that Nobel laureate's Lucky Per, Pontoppidan is so little read nowadays it would hardly occur to any contemporary critic to even consider him in the mix of the (now-)significant writers of that era .....
       So also Bazlen considers Hamsun: "one of the last great European novelists (one of the writers of novel-novels -- coming before the dissolvers)", and makes the case for Jeremias Gotthelf (!) -- of
The Black Spider-fame -- being: "the (at least in some respects) GREATEST European novelist of the last century".
       Bazlen doesn't do reader's reports in the more conventional way, with plot summaries and the like. He gives his impressions, and rarely points to specifics from the books themselves. There's an often almost conversational tone here -- they are presented as 'Editorial Letters', and much of this is indeed like correspondence of the old school (albeit a one-sided conversation). Occasionally, he'll get more creative in trying to make his case, as in taking a cinematic approach to evaluating Kasimir Edschmid's Der Marshall und die Gnade, eventually summing up:

Storyline: very skillful. Dialogue: conventional and never indecorous. Direction: excellent work. Actors: well schooled though showing no special talent. Costumes: plausible. Makeup: the fake beards are not immediately noticeable. Photography (cinerama): perfect (at the edges of the frame, the objects are just as in focus as they are at the center). Color technician: good (Agfacolor). Sound technician: not bad. Smell technician: excessive. Period consultant: first-rate. Distinguishing characteristics: none.
       A translation of Bazlen's limited but quite fascinating work seems long overdue, and the appearance of Notes Without a Text, covering most all of it, is very much welcome, another small but significant piece of European literature (in every sense) finally available. An interesting and well-read literary figure, Bazlen has quite a bit to offer, even now, more than half a century after his death. - M.A.Orthofer
http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/italia/bazlenr.htm

Roberto Bazlen published nothing in his lifetime. An advisor to Italian publishing houses, a translator of Freud and Jung, a friend of Montale and Calvino, he was nothing if not a literary man, but he was deeply suspicious of the enterprising spirit of the “literary world” and kept his writings to himself. Notes Without a Text is an introduction to the work of one of the unknown masters of twentieth-century European literature.

9/9/19

Cristina Fernández Cubas - In these six elegant stories she’s most interested in the ambiguities and periodic disturbances that plague the imagination, and reports on them with the appropriate sense of awe, even of dread

Slikovni rezultat za Cristina Fernández Cubas, Nona's Room
Cristina Fernández Cubas, Nona's Room, Trans. by Simon Deefholts and Kathryn Phillips-Miles, Peter Owen Publishers, 2017.


excerpt
excerpt 2


 An award-winning collection of Gothic and uncanny stories from one of Europe's most celebrated contemporary writers of short fiction. In Nona's Room the everyday fantasies of women slowly turn into nightmare, delusion and paranoia. A young girl who is envious of the attention given to her sister has a brutal awakening. A young woman, facing eviction, misplaces her trust in an old lady who invites her into her home. A mature woman spends the night in a hotel in Madrid and falls into a time warp... Cubas's stories are suffused with the chilling tones of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and the psychological intensity of Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train.


"There is mystery almost from the first sentence of every story. Each detail shatters our inertia and forces us to reappraise a shifting panorama." —El Pais
"Masterfully blends the commonplace with the fantastic, achieving the essence and vitality inherent in the best examples of this literary genre." —Selection Panel, Premio Nacional de Literatura
"Cubas stories create one of the most extraordinary universes in contemporary literature, where the commonplace and the unexpected, normality and the unexplainable intertwine to offer a singular vision of human experience." —abc



“There’s an especially lovely story of that last, skeptical kind in Cristina Fernández Cubas’s remarkable collection . . . In these six elegant stories she’s most interested in the ambiguities and periodic disturbances that plague the imagination, and reports on them with the appropriate sense of awe, even of dread.” —New York Times

It doesn’t take the reader long to realise that nothing is quite what it seems in Cristina Fernández Cubas’s short story collection Nona’s Room. The book – the first of Cubas’s work to be translated into English, by Kathryn Phillips-Miles and Simon Deefholts – is an invitation to step through the looking glass. The slight shift in perspective that this entails is all that’s needed to expose the blackness lurking all around – from actual monsters hidden behind closed doors to the horrors of strange tricks played by unstable minds.
In the story with which the collection opens (and from which it also takes its title), a teenage girl struggles with the attention given to her “special” sister Nona, a description that the girl comes to understand “didn’t necessarily mean something good”. As it’s slowly revealed just how unreliable a narrator we’re dealing with here, what begins as a tale of seemingly ordinary sibling rivalry soon morphs into something much more distressing. Interestingly, the same topic rears its head in the concluding story, A Few Days with the Wahyes-Wahno. This time, however, it’s adult siblings who play out the pattern of “bitterness and hatred” forged during their childhoods. Unconsciously transmitting this model of interaction from one generation to the next, this jealousy bubbles along in the background while a narrative concerning their formative years takes centre stage. While their father lies gravely sick at home, the 13-year-old narrator and her younger brother are sent to spend the summer with their aunt and uncle, “to breathe the pure mountain air, eat fresh eggs and drink goat’s milk straight from the goat.” Of course, what this so-called rural idyll actually offers them is far from a life of straightforward, carefree simplicity.
Adolescence, with all its emotional turbulence and physical transformation, naturally allies itself with Cubas’s slightly off-kilter worldview. As such, when she turns her attention to older protagonists, the effect is slightly less successful. The mature woman who checks herself into a Madrid hotel in A Fresh Start actually encounters the opposite. Stuck in what appears to be some kind of time warp, she finds herself somehow reliving episodes from her youth: “Today, the present has slipped into her past”. The story makes for disconcerting reading, but it lacks the punch of some of the other tales. Not that this change of pace isn’t welcome, if only to provide some variation on a modus operandi that might otherwise come across as repetitive. Nestled, for example, in between two narratives that deal in subtler shocks, is Chatting to Old Ladies. Of the six stories in the collection, this is the one that deals in more traditional horrors of Grimm’s fairy tales, albeit with a contemporary twist: Room meets Hansel and Gretel.
All the same, Cubas’s take on the Gothic is not quite like any­thing else I’ve read, not least because of the arresting central story in the collection, Interior with Figure – which takes its name from a painting by the 19th-century Italian artist Adriano Cecioni that features a young, scared-looking girl crouching beside a bed in a sparsely furnished room. By this point we’ve been lulled into assuming that what we’re reading are works of fiction, but no, this is something else entirely: an account of an unnerving encounter that took place in Cubas’s own life (or so we’re led to believe) is the “inspiration” for a story (or so she declares). But whether this is it, we can’t be quite sure. The girl in the painting reminds Cubas of a character in one of her stories –Nona – she explains, but there’s another girl here who piques her interest more: a jittery schoolgirl also visiting the art gallery. Rather than re-establishing our connection to the real, this fusing of fiction and actuality right in the middle of the book is surprisingly unsettling.
Phillips-Miles and Deefholts’s translation breathes just the right amount of animation into Cubas’s work. Further evocation of the uncanny atmosphere that infuses the text, the lucidity of their prose sits gloriously at odds with what it’s describing. “It’s as if she’s not seeing the same thing as everyone else,” says Cubas of the schoolgirl transfixed by the Cecioni painting, “or at least not in the same way.” The strange creepiness of these stories suggests the same might be said of Cubas herself. She’s able to cut through reality and see something else within– things the rest of us don’t, can’t or won’t allow ourselves to see. Reading this collection illuminates the darkness, but be prepared: it’s not a pretty picture. - Lucy Scholes
https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/book-review-in-nona-s-room-cristina-fern%C3%A1ndez-cubas-brings-darkness-to-light-with-uncanny-flair-1.76298


My first book for Spanish lit month is the first of the three from the second |Peter Owen World series were they are every year publishing three books from a certain country the first in the series was Slovenia this second series is three books from Spain. The first book is from Cristina Fernandez Cubas she has bee writing since the 1980’s this is her first book to be translated into English, she has written ten books, including one using a male pseudonym, this collection won National Narrative and critics prize when it came out.
My sister is special. That’s what my mother told me at the time she was born in the bright and sunny room in that hospital.She also said, “Special is a lovely word.Never forget that “. I’ve never forgetten, oif course , but it’s more than likely that the scene I’ve described didn’t happen in the hospital but much later in some room and that Nona wasn’t a newborn or even a baby but rather aa little girl of three or four years old .
Nona isn’t what we think this is the start but as the story unflds it takes more turns.
Cubas is well known for putting her female characters in very unsettling situations or out of their comfort zone. The first story is told by an older sister about her young sister Nona of the title of the book. As the story unfolds as told by a child you sense something is very wrong with her younger sister almost unnatural in a way. The next story follows a young woman who is about to meet a friend in a cafe feels sorry for an older woman Ro as she finds out that is sat by herself in the cafe looking lost and lonely.The young woman called Alicia is in need of a place to stay and this older woman offer hers a place in her flat, encourages her to see the flat before her friend arrives. She does but does she return and is all as it seems is this older lady whom she seems. Then a story revolving around a picture that is a girl looking for something under a bed another strange figure leads a writer to she the picture in person. There are three other stories.
Alica thought Ro was charming , a charming old lady.
“I’m on the fifth floor.”
Alicia imagined the fifth floor was like. There would be an enormus flat full of keepsakes. It would be a flat typical of the Ensanche district. There would be the dining room and a glazed veranda at one end and the master bedroom at the other .There would be a long corridor, which Ro would struggle up and down a thousand times a day. Ro, she said to herfself .Now she thought about it , her last chance was actually RO
Ok I’ll come in for a bit, just for a bit
Alicia goes to see a flat but is that All ?
This is a collection of  slightly creepy stories , I was reminded of Roald Dahl  short stories, at times she is almost a female version of his tales of unexpected where everything isn’t what it seems on the surface the perfect example is the second story talking to old ladies that until the last third seems a simple story of an older lady offering a younger a place to stay but no there is a classic twist in the tail, which is what Dahl did so well in his tales of the unexpected stories .I’m surprised it has taken so long for her to be translated into English
- https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/nonas-room-by-cristina-fernandez-cubas/


Today I’m looking at another title from the Peter Owen/Istros Spanish Spring trio (the last I reviewed was Inventing Love). The author biography tells me that Cristina Fernández Cubas is one of Spain’s most highly regarded short-story writers — and that Nona’s Room is her first book to be translated into English. After reading these six stories, I can see why Cubas has such a high reputation; and I’m keen to read more of her work.
The opening title story sets the tone of the collection. When the narrator’s sister Nona was born, her mother told her that Nona was special, and not to forget that “special is a lovely word.” Well, maybe that was how it happened. Whatever, the narrator knows that she has felt sidelined since Nona came along:
Because my life was very different before Nona came into the world. I don’t remember it very well, but I do know it was different. I’ve got loads of reasons to think that it was better, too. Much better. But once Nona was born things changed for ever, and that must be why I got used to thinking that my mother said those words the day she came into the world. That’s the day when I started a new life as well. My life with Nona. 
(translation by Kathryn Phillips-Miles and Simon Deefholts)
This kind of uncertainty, and a slippery hold on reality, permeates all of Cubas’s stories. In this particular example, the narrator has started to lose her sense of having a life in and for herself when her parents focus all their attention on special Nona at her special school, Nona with her array of imaginary friends. It’s when the narrator sees something inexplicable happen to her sister that she becomes determined to find out the truth, and discover what secrets lie behind the door of Nona’s room…
Yes, I am tiptoeing around something that I don’t want to reveal. But I don’t want to give the impression that this story is ‘all about the twist’: ‘Nona’s Room’ writhes and shifts all the way through, with a constant sense that something else is set to emerge.
That same sense comes right to the fore early on in ‘Interior with Figure’, when the narrator describes the Cecioni painting of that name and says that the girl depicted “reminds me of a character in a short story I wrote recently whom I called Nona.”
The narrator of ‘Interior with Figure’ admits to being a writer but stops short of revealing her name. Still, that mention of Nona tempts us to perceive this story as being closer to reality than some of the others. Our narrator goes on to recount seeing a school party at the gallery she is visiting, and hearing one girl who has a particularly dark interpretation of Cecioni’s Interior with Figure. The girl speculates that the figure in the painting is hiding from her parents, because she knows they want to kill her for what she has seen.
It strikes the narrator that the girl’s comments on the painting may actually be a coded cry for help. She wonders what she should do: go to the police? But what would she tell them? ‘Interior with Figure’ is a story about interpretation: a series of subjectivities which crystallise into a whole all unto itself. That’s my interpretation, anyway…
‘The End of Barbro’ sees a woman drive a wedge between the man she marries and his three daughters. What makes this story particularly striking is that it’s narrated by the three sisters collectively:
We hardly spoke a word and didn’t dare look each other in the eye, but with a few drinks inside us we sorted through our thoughts and memories as if they were scenes from a film fast-forwarding at a frenetic pace and featuring only two protagonists: Barbro and our father. And when we remember her appearing on the doorstep barely a week earlier it seemed as if years and years had gone by. They weren’t the same, and neither were we. 
The effect of this narration is quite eerie, because we lose sight of the sisters’ individual lives and personalities (perhaps reflecting how they feel squeezed out by Barbro), which makes it harder to imagine them as characters. In turn, that makes the story’s sense of reality unstable… and there we’re back to the normal state of affairs in Nona’s Room. -          
https://www.davidsbookworld.com/2017/07/13/nonas-room-cristina-fernandez-cubas/


"It’s as if she’s not seeing the same thing as everyone else”
                    --- "Interior With Figure" 


Nona's Room puts together six short stories narrated by women, and it isn't long into the first story that I realized I had something unique in my hands.  The publisher's description of this collection labels these tales as "Gothic and uncanny stories," but I think a better way to describe them is to say that they're off-kilter, taking the reader right away into a strange sort of universe where he/she will have no idea what to expect at any moment.  That impression was cemented  in the first story, "Nona's Room," a tale of two sisters that is utterly mind blowing once the author turns a certain corner in the telling.  Then another surprise, with "Chatting With Old Ladies," which starts out with a woman trapped in a desperate situation who, as it turns out,  hasn't even begun to understand the meaning of either "trapped" or "desperate." This one reads like a mix of horror story and fairy tale, and I heard myself actually gasp at the ending of this one. By this time on  full alert, I moved on to what I consider to be the best story in this book, "Interior With Figure," in which a writer visiting an art museum stops to listen to a group of children giving their own interpretations of a particular painting, finding one little girl's thoughts beyond disturbing. However, it's this child, not the painting itself, that captures the writer's imagination...
 "The End of Barbro" brings three sisters together to reflect on their past, while "A Fresh Start" finds a woman wanting to start all over discovering that "the present has slipped into her past;"  "A Few Days with the "Wahyes-Wahno" follows two children as they visit their aunt and uncle while their father is ill; the idyllic retreat will become something they will remember for the rest of their lives. "..a sad happiness or a happy sadness," only the reader can judge.
The quotation with which I began this post really says it all -- "It’s as if she’s not seeing the same thing as everyone else," since it seems to me that Ms. Cubas has this rather eerie way of looking at things through a set of lenses that focus on the spaces between reflections and illusion, past and present; but most of all between borders and boundaries that we as readers don't get to see very often. It's not an easy read, and it does take a lot of active thought, but the patient reader will be highly rewarded.  And I have to say that as I turned the last page, I had to go sit and focus on more mundane things to shake off my sense of being left totally off balance.  When a book can provoke a reaction like that, it's one well worth reading. - NancyO
http://www.readingavidly.com/2017/10/nonas-room-by-cristina-fernandez-cubas.html

Sotiropoulos Ersi - As Cavafy explores the depths of Paris, readers may feel like they're trapped inside a poem, experiencing the scenic walks Cavafy takes, empathizing with his expansive sexual desires, and hoping that he’ll one day reach the Ark—which, for all intents and purposes, embodies the geographical location of a poetic muse

Slikovni rezultat za Ersi Sotiropoulos, What's Left of the Night
Ersi Sotiropoulos, What's Left of the Night,  Trans. by Karen Emmerich, New Vessel Press, 2018.                             
excerpt


In June 1897, the young Constantine Cavafy arrives in Paris on the last stop of a long European tour, a trip that will deeply shape his future and push him toward his poetic inclination. With this lyrical novel, tinged with an hallucinatory eroticism that unfolds over three unforgettable days, celebrated Greek author Ersi Sotiropoulos depicts Cavafy in the midst of a journey of self-discovery across a continent on the brink of massive change. He is by turns exhilarated and tormented by his homosexuality; the Greek-Turkish War has ended in Greece’s defeat and humiliation; France is torn by the Dreyfus Affair, and Cavafy’s native Alexandria has surrendered to the indolent rhythms of the East. A stunning portrait of a budding author—before he became one of the 20th century’s greatest poets—that illuminates the complex relationship of art, life, and the erotic desires that trigger creativity.


"In most lives there are no crucial moments, only representative ones. What’s Left of the Night illuminates three days in 1897 when Constantine Cavafy began to glimpse what would be his destiny (his voice and his subject) as a major poet. Sotiropoulos notices every encounter and records every intuition with a lyrical, impressionistic style of her own. A perfect book." —Edmund White


Sotiropoulos’s striking novel opens in the summer of 1897, as Constantine Cavafy arrives in Paris on tour with his older brother, John. The two are aspiring poets, cosmopolitans from a notable—though recently impoverished—family of Greek Alexandrians. Constantine (who’d eventually become celebrated 20th-century poet C.P. Cavafy) is the subject of Sotiropoulos’ portrait of a young artist in the making. Distracted and prone to daydreams, Constantine spends his days within himself, preoccupied with his fantasies and craft. His insular world is changed with the arrival of Mardaras, a fellow literary Greek expatriate who inadvertently shares a terse review of Constantine’s work from a famous critic: “Weak expression Poor artistry.” With his confidence shaken, Constantine turns to the streets of a vividly drawn, politically fraught Paris. There, he comes to terms with himself as an artist, facing the forces behind his poetry: his restless homosexuality, his conflicted family relationships, and his deep admiration of language. Sotiropoulos’s novel is both a loving tribute to a seminal Greek poet and a contemplative, fascinating reflection on the drive to create art. - Publishers Weekly


A novel that looks deeply into the poetics of beloved Greek-Egyptian poet C.P. Cavafy, who lived through the turn of the 20th century.
Sotiropoulos (Landscape with Dog and Other Stories, 2009, etc.) tells the story of a young Cavafy traveling from Alexandria, where he was born, to Paris with his brother John in search of a mystical Ark, a place where all wrongdoings go unpunished, where all vices are celebrated, and where Cavafy’s concealed homoerotic desires will go unjudged. In the process, Cavafy walks through the streets of Paris in desperate search of a poem. “As he walked, the lines of a poem he was writing came to mind. Every so often he would pick it up, poke and prod, then let it be.” In fact, the poem Cavafy so amorously longs for seems to be embedded in Sotiropoulos’ tale. As Cavafy explores the depths of Paris, readers may feel like they're trapped inside a poem, experiencing the scenic walks Cavafy takes, empathizing with his expansive sexual desires, and hoping that he’ll one day reach the Ark—which, for all intents and purposes, embodies the geographical location of a poetic muse (“It’s not clear precisely what transpires there—it’s rumored to be a den of pleasure frequented by aristocrats and commoners alike”). Sotiropoulos has done an incredible job of painting a naturalistic scene of Paris as it was during the Dreyfus affair while giving a glimpse into what it was like to be a poet at that time. Cavafy’s original approach to poetry is what set him apart from his contemporaries. Readers may well leave this novel with a sincere desire to pick up a book of his poetry.
A beautiful portrait of an aspiring poet. - Kirkus Reviews


The Greek poet C.P. Cavafy is a writer who elicits ambiguous reactions. He seemed to follow a conventional path in his writing in formal terms, while at the same time confronting moral taboos with his erotic themes, often tinged with suggestions of homosexuality. Conventional as they might sound at first for a reader more attuned to avant-garde experiments, the intense poignancy of his poems places him among the ranks of the extraordinary.
In What’s Left of the Night, a novel by Greek writer Ersi Sotiropoulos which takes Cavafy as its protagonist, the poet’s struggle against conventions, social and personal, takes center stage. The book, which was translated into French in 2016 and received the Prix Méditerranée for foreign fiction, is a fictional account of the last days of a long journey through Europe undertaken by Cavafy in 1897. At the time, he had already published some poems and essays in journals and newspapers, a practice he continued throughout his life, eschewing book publication, but he was not widely known.
This is a coming-of-age novel, told through a layering of parallel themes and stories, centered around three feverish days that the poet spent in Paris. This was to be his only visit to the French capital, but Cavafy would always regard the city as a decisive place in his development.
The story itself is quite simple, almost plotless in action terms. Cavafy is on the last leg of a European voyage he has made with his brother John. They are in turn-of-the-century Paris, where the Commune is still a recent memory, the Dreyfus affair is polarizing the nation, and artistic ferment continues to electrify. Gone are poets like Rimbaud and Verlaine and Symbolists such as Redon and Moreau, yielding their place in the avant-garde to the Impressionists, Cézanne and Picasso. Surrealism is in the air. Einstein is dealing in relativity. Freud and Jung are writing about the discovery of the unconscious and the importance of dreams.
 In this context, Cavafy’s transgressions seem small and personal, but they split the armature of the somewhat inflexible poet. Cavafy himself realizes that he is naïve and also comes to realize that this naïveté is something that he needs to shed in order to shoulder what is at that point the burden of his unrecognized genius. In fact, Sotiropoulos brings her protagonist to muse frequently on the comparative differences between himself and the writers who live in the world. Rimbaud, the poète maudit who stopped writing at twenty-three, functions as his alter ego, his shadow in Jungian terms: “The question, he thought, is who can produce better poetry? The one with the quiet life, bent timidly over his desk, his mind fired by desires and the most wild imaginings, fantasies he knows will never become reality, or the other, who rushes at life with gusto, who taunts life like a foolhardy warrior, daring it, betting his very existence in a game of heads or tails?”
Similar doubts were addressed by Cavafy in his work, in a manner which suggests that he strived to move beyond the either / or of action and morality, contesting and destroying artificial and inauthentic polarities.
Many years after his trip, he would write in his Ars Poetica: “Also care should be taken not to lose from sight that a state of feeling is true and false, possible and impossible at the same time, or rather in turns. And the poet—who even when he works the most philosophically, remains an artist—gives one side. . . . Very often the poet’s work has but a vague meaning; it is a suggestion: the thoughts are to be enlarged by future generations or by his immediate readers: Plato said the poet’s utter great meanings without realizing them themselves”.
What were the transgressions that he needed to initiate and experience in order to complete the parallel journeys of art and individuation? In one sense he was a “mama’s boy,” still tied to the Greek notion of filial devotion, despite the fact that he and his brother referred to their mother as “The Fat One.” But there was also a broader issue of family honor and pride: after his father died, the family’s financial circumstances plunged, and with it their social standing. In one of the most poignant scenes of the book, he and his mother make a social call on former friends and social peers. Toward the end of the call, other people in the drawing room make their way to another room, apparently invited to stay to dinner, while Cavafy and his mother are left alone, too déclassé to remain part of their former tribe.
Although this change came late, Cavafy had to come to terms with it in a way that was beneficial rather than poisonous, using it as a means to shed some of the stifling social values and compartmentalization of people with its suffocating rigid morality. Sotiropoulos suggests that this didn’t come easy, however. Despite their own class fall, Cavafy castigates and deprecates his brother John for buying a lovely red kerchief for Rozina, a governess, with whom he is in love, because the woman is of the wrong social class. He comes to recognize his snobbery in this stance and apologizes to John, but still cannot bring himself to ease John’s way with their mother about it; in fact, he adds duplicity to his sins as he lies to his brother about his promise to do so.
The Greek Orthodox ban on homosexuality wars within Cavafy with the ancient Greek exaltation of the self-contained male in myth and legend as well as its cultural acceptance of homoeroticism in literature and art. At a certain point in the story, he feels himself entranced by a Russian dancer (or so he imagines him to be) who is part of a visiting ballet troupe. Cavafy does not engage him, speaking only a line or two about reservations in Paris, all the while despairing of his own timidity. His fantasies and desires raise to a fever pitch. One night at the hotel where they both lodge, he finds the dancer’s door and squats there for three hours with his ear to it, listening to the muffled sounds of what he is sure is lovemaking. He finally rips himself away, overcome with the fear of discovery and jealousy of the unseen and perhaps non-existent couple, and runs to his room where he scourges his body with a loofah: “He stood in front of the mirror and stripped off his shirt. He plunged the glove into the basin and rubbed himself vigorously. . . . He hadn’t given in. Not this time. His rules had helped. He felt almost relaxed. Just now he would like to read a good poem, or to write.”
Decades later, Cavafy would write of his time in Paris and understand that it functioned as a counterpart to his childhood city, Alexandria. Paris was an irreplaceable catalyst to his maturation. Although he realized how different his poetry would have been if he had been brought up there, it would never be Alexandria for him: too much of the grounding of his poetry would center on memories. Alexandria formed his early consciousness of the world. Paris represented a Valhalla and a Hades—a plunge into his unconscious, deep and often scary, but rich in the treasures of communion and self.
Cavafy’s life-affirming mantra in the closing chapters of the book encloses within itself: “abandon. . . .abandon. . . . abandon. . . .abandon.”  Not four times, but many, many more, the words reveal themselves as a sacred chant that celebrates, purifies, and then transcends the pedestrian existence that the poet sees as his life.
Sotiropoulos infuses the most intense episodes of this decisive séjour with a surrealistic flavor, a dreamlike flow that unveils ideas and truths not found or not understood in the conscious world. Surrealism thus becomes a privileged perspective above reality. In clear opposition are the majority of scenes in the work, barring the erotic, told in an almost-monotone, somewhat opaque. It is as if the surface of the novel doesn’t extend an invitation to the reader, and resists depth, as perhaps the surface or persona of Cavafy. I believe this reserve kept me from enjoying the book as I might have. The character of Cavafy is rarely appealing: he comes off as petulant, and selfish, although by the end of the work and his journey much of that has changed.
With the caveat that I read this book only in translation, I found the writing to be beautiful, flowing and sensual, with an extreme mastery of rhythm, particularly in the erotic musings and scenes. Unfortunately for this reviewer, the novel in its entirety was a case of not enough, not soon enough, for sustained interest. - Lynne Diamond-Nigh
https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/book-review/whats-left-of-the-night-by-ersi-sotiropoulos-delves-into-c.p.-cavafys-fever


CONSTANTINE PETROU CAVAFY’S three-day adventure in Paris during June 1897 had all the makings of an ambitious literary crossover event. He was a stateless gay Greek poet en flâneur in fin-de-siècle Paris amid the Dreyfus Affair, barely a month after Oscar Wilde left Reading Gaol as a free man. Some beautiful boys were expiring from epic pleasures in the modernized city, while others were furtively making love in Haussmann’s new public toilets. Art was supposedly being made for art’s sake. And, as has been the case since at least the Fourth Crusade, far-flung Greeks, like Jean Moréas (born Ioannis Papadiamantopoulos) and Theodoros Ralli, were afoot — kosmopolítes in the truest sense. To read about that time now, magic and positivism were both flourishing in the capital of the 19th century, waiting for the barbarians of the next. However, none of this Cavafian grist seems to have gone through the poet’s mill: he wrote nothing about his three days in the City of Lights.
It’s an especially intriguing gap in his fragmented biography, and for decades, it needled the curiosity of another Greek writer. Ersi Sotiropoulos (Έρση Σωτηροπούλου), one of Greece’s most prolific and decorated writers of literary fiction, learned about Cavafy’s Parisian trip in 1984, but didn’t begin writing about it until 2009. By 2015, she had filled in the gaps of those three days with this novel, Τι Μένει Από Τι Νύχτα or What’s Left of the Night, which earned Greece’s highest literary awards. More success came in 2017 when the French translation received the Prix Méditerranée Étranger, whose previous winners include Umberto Eco, Orhan Pamuk, and Ismail Kadare. Notably, Sotiropoulos is the fourth woman and only the second Greek to win the award in its 25-year history — a timely and much needed glory for Greece. This past August, after a lost decade, the country nominally emerged from foreign financial conservatorship. How appropriate, then, that this book appears now in English, lovingly translated by Dr. Karen Emmerich, and published by New Vessel Press.
As Greece begins another phase in its long, mutually disappointing relationship with Europe, What’s Left of the Night sighs wearily and then laughs, remembering all too well when both were here before. Set in 1897, this novel’s events come in the aftermath of the first Greco-Turkish War, which the young nation waged in order to annex Crete. Armed with artillery leftover from the 1821 War of Independence, Greece quickly failed, provoking the swift intervention of the Great Powers. As compensation for this aid (and at the pronounced insistence of imperial Germany), Greece resigned its financial sovereignty to an international committee until 1936. Now, Greece has virtually returned to “Black ’97” — what with its youth fleeing, wealth mortgaged, and government kneecapped by unheard-of peacetime budgets. “Grexit” is no longer imminent, never mind that Europe is a Greek word. Still, to observers inside and outside Greece, this victory is a Pyrrhic one, as bitterly and bitingly ironic as Cavafy’s poetry.
It’s this irony that distinguishes Cavafy from his contemporaries, that accounts for his prescient modernity, and that — to borrow scholar Peter Jeffreys’s perfect phrase — endears him to “diaspora Greeks, classicists, and gays” (hello). In What’s Left of the Night, Sotiropoulos excavates the origin of this irony in the early years of Cavafy’s poetic awakening, a period in which his work was, by all accounts, unremarkably competent and nothing more. Her protagonist, the fictionalized Cavafy here called Constantine/Costis, is painfully aware of these shortcomings but terrified to take the necessary steps to correct them. Practical, methodical, and traumatized as a child by the vaporization of his family’s wealth, Constantine “had chosen to remain whole, untouched, safe, at the borders of the known world.” He clings to clear conceptual distinctions and abides in the predictability of clean, metered lines.
In 1897, under the long shadow of Baudelaire, such a temperament disadvantaged an aspiring poet. Languorous prose poems and pleasures-to-excess were de rigueur for writers of good verse, but Constantine could abandon himself to neither. “The problem was Alexandria,” the hometown where he is sequestered among the Greek minority, yoked to a manipulative but helpless mother, and depleted by a sex life that’s either too active or not active enough (it’s unclear). Squeezed to the point of combustion by the city, Constantine “felt useless, irresolute, a failure,” unable to liberate the “chunky pastiche” of his amateur poetry from the “churning runoff of […] lyricism” and sentimentality. If he were to become a poet, Constantine “determined, without really believing it, that he needed to erase the Alexandria within him.”
To that end, in May 1897, Constantine embarks with his older brother John on a six-week journey to other cities, other shores, ending in Paris. This novel chronicles their three days there, fortuitously symbolic of Christ’s resurrection — a connotation Sotiropoulos subtly amplifies with allusions to Orthodox paschal hymns and images. Rebirth of sorts is, after all, what Constantine wants from Paris once it kills the provincial Alexandrian within. As to what extent it succeeds, Sotiropoulos is tantalizingly ambiguous. Did Paris remake him in the image of a French poète maudit? Or did it simply drive Constantine to discover that, in the same way he wasted his life in Alexandria, he had wasted it everywhere else in the world? Sotiropoulos enigmatically implies here that the answer is both and neither, much like how Cavafy straddles poetic styles. In this sense, What’s Left of The Night mythologizes the origin of Cavafy’s distinct marriage of fin-de-siècle mysticism with modernist irony.
Appropriately that marriage begins in Paris. Constantine relishes the city, “whose smallest corner seemed large and important,” as well as endowed with his poet idols who have the power to cure his ennui. Such language of the Decadents permeates this novel without transforming it into pastiche, nodding just enough to the historical Cavafy’s life-long aesthetic debt to effete British and French letters. Fittingly, the shadows of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Wilde, loom over the book’s version of Paris, which is sprinkled with places they lived, dined, and made love. And yet, even the lingering magnetism of these poetic titans doesn’t galvanize Constantine, one of several instances in this book in which expectations exceed reality. Whether masturbating or morose, he is as unmotivated as in Alexandria. Worse, he has no new material to show for his time in this city where, unlike home, everything truly was copy.
Walking into the night, he laments how the “city rushed toward him and he would have liked to be pure and open, so as to meet It properly, to catch even its subtlest hints,” in the manner of a true flâneur like the Baudelaire he idolizes. That kind of life, kaleidoscopic with pleasure, tenderness, and monstrous depravity, both enchants and repels Constantine. Meeting someone adjacent to those who live such a life — Nikos Mardaras, a bootlicking diaspora Greek and Moréas’s (fictional) unpaid secretary — doesn’t improve his ambivalence. A wolf of a social climber with a fleecy “sheep-like head,” Mardaras becomes the brothers’ obnoxious Virgil through the Paris nighttime. In its cafes and carriages, he interrogates them about Parnassianism, Aestheticism, Symbolism, and other “–isms” that Constantine abjures in his own nascent ars poetica. “Do you believe in art for art’s sake?” Mardaras asks. “I believe in life for art’s sake,” Constantine replies, sidestepping into a place of withheld disavowal, neither Decadent nor Modern. - Niko Maragos
read more here


A poignant meditation on the origins of an individual’s art, the novel traces Cavafy’s footsteps during the final stop of a European trip he took with his brother in 1897. Struggling to find his poetic voice, he has yet to attain the renown that will eventually come to him. Paris seems to hold promise, but rather than finding his footing in the circles of Paris literati, most of whom bore or even disgust him, he is drawn into the self-torture of his own repressed homosexuality. When a Russian ballet company checks into Cavafy’s hotel, one of the male dancers intrigues and excites him, sparking his erotic imagination and culminating in him spending a night of heightened imaginative pleasure outside the dancer’s door.
Karen Emmerich’s translation renders Cavafy’s internal strife—the driving force of the novel—in melodic, anguished, well-researched prose. Equal parts a character study and a treatise on the creative mind, the novel boldly provokes questions about the relationship between an artist’s life and his art, specifically the quality of art that is born out of immense suffering. Rather than succumbing to shame, whether self-inflicted or socially imposed, the novel suggests that the cure for such darkness lies in transmuting misery into works of beauty. For Cavafy, this seems to have been the answer.
Haunting and enthralling, What’s Left of the Night successfully fosters an almost mystical communion with Cavafy and his torment. Ultimately, pinpoints of light peek through the gloom and illuminate the refuge that art can offer. - Meagan Logsdon   
 https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/whats-left-of-the-night/  


In a mini review on Instagram I described this book as a "Satisfying and sensual slow-burn." For a while, I struggled with whether or not calling this book a slow-burn was accurate. Sometimes people use that word to describe relationships that go flat over a long period time like a bike tire with a patient, yet insistent leak. But, then I remembered the crackle of an early Fall fire and how it feels to sit there, drunk off of too much rum and watch the fire go out at 5 minutes to dawn. How you know that your memories of the evening have already begun to diminish in glamor while somehow you also know more.. about yourself, or whatever. Just more. You're a fuller cup.
That's how you feel when you finish this book. The cover says, "A perfect book!"--some partial from Edmund White that I definitely shook my head at because how could someone brag so boldly and on the cover no less? Yet, here the book is. Whole enough to fill you up and perfect in that.
On the surface, the book is just a story of two brothers on a trip to Europe. They're both poets and they've got a little rivalry going--though it's apparent they care for each other and that their bond is genuine. The main character, Constantine Cavafy (a real poet born in 1863) struggles with the notion that he's true to his poetry and his brother simply enjoys calling himself an arteest. This tension isn't the bulk of the novel however. Cavafy is a gay man. Just as real-life Constantine Cavafy was. And, he's just received his first poetic rejection from a writer he very much looks up to, not to mention, he's stuck hanging out with Mardaras, a sheep-like man who thinks name dropping = conversation.
Of course, like any true bourgeois artist of the time, Cavafy complains. Alot. Despite the whining, he's truly a likable fellow. Sotiropoulos' portrayal of him is backed by her intense researching in the Cavafy archive, and while she could have chosen the colder academic side of the man, she illuminates a young, up and coming artist whose complicated relationship with his sexuality is keeping him from success.
The book is compressed into the three days that free Cavafy from himself and allow him to truly access his work, even if he has to destroy every morsel of writing in the process. Cavafy and John traipse around Paris led by Mardaras and the elegant but cool Madame De and while everyone else is having a frighteningly good time eating at cafes and discussing whorehouses, Cavafy is splintered by the present moment, his work, and his attraction to a young, male ballerina. The novel builds in the "rupture" of the main character--both erotically and artistically. It does so in such an intense and satisfying way that by the end you just want to eat cold plums and smoke a cigarette. It also carefully curates the experience of the poet (or artist or musician) moving through daily life as a ghost for their passion, so entrenched in the creative process that even Theseus can't drag them from it.
"...and again--to his poem, as if the poem were capable of crystalizing that circular flow, or rather of abolishing it, destroying all distance in a few short lines, allowing an unknown poet just setting out to conceive of this suspended world, to express it in the most economical of ways, because History with a capital H was comprised not of events but of stories--a wealth of new ideas crawled like ants in his head searching for words, for the beginning of a line, behind which lay his ambition, an unquenchable thirst, he couldn't deny it, so many ideas and words and ideas that hadn't yet found their words--it seems, I'll have to write another poem, he thought...and the free flow was broken and he looked ahead. There was no obelisk. This wasn't the Place de la Conorde."
It's real, it's raw, and it's so beautifully lyrical that you feel like you're reading aloud to yourself even when you're reading quietly in a crowded bar. 10/10 would recommend. 10/10 will reread.*
*10/10 is rare for me this book was just truly awesome.
- Elysia
www.irvingtonvinylandbooks.com/blog/2018/8/15/critics-corner-a-review-of-whats-left-of-the-night-by-ersi-sotiropoulos-tr-by-karen-emmerich


C(onstantine) P Cavafy was a noted Greek poet, born in Alexandria, where he spent most of his life, though he did also live in Liverpool and what was then Constantinople. He was a friend of the writer E M Forster and influenced, amongst others, Lawrence Durrell, who even had him as a character in The Alexandria Quartet.

This novel is set during three days in 1897 when Cavafy, together with his older brother, John (Constantine was the youngest of nine) visited Paris. This period was key for Cavafy’s artistic development, which is a key theme of the novel. However, the reduced circumstances of the Cavafy family and Cavafy’s sexual issues are also key. The title comes from Isaiah 21:11 ( A prophecy against Dumah : Someone calls to me from Seir, “Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?”)
We follow the two brothers as they make their way round Paris. They are being careful with money, not least because the Cavafy family fortunes, which had been very high, have now fallen on hard times (hence the period in Liverpool) and money is tight. For example, they yearn to dine at the Maison dorée, an expensive restaurant, where they would have regularly dined in days past, and, more than once, consider going there, only to reject the idea.
The key plot involves their relationship with Nikos Mardaras. Mardaras is the unpaid secretary to the influential Greek poet Jean Moréas, who wrote in French. Moréas is away in Greece during the course of the novel but Mardaras seems to have the run of his house, not least to deal with his correspondence. The Cavafy brothers are taken there twice and Constantine marvels at his extensive library, though does somewhat sneer at it (I thought it somewhat limited in range). Constantine had sent two poems to Moréas and sees the envelope on the desk, with a handwritten comment: Weak expression Poor artistry. Who wrote this comment? Constantine does not know but is haunted by it throughout the book. - The Modern Novel
www.themodernnovel.org/europe/w-europe/greece/ersi-sotiropoulos/whats-left-of-the-night/


Slikovni rezultat za Ersi Sotiropoulos, Landscape With Dog:

Ersi Sotiropoulos, Landscape With Dog: And Other Stories, Trans. by Karen Emmerich, Clockroot Books, 2009.




Stories from the collection:  Can Anybody Hear Me ?  
The Pinball King

"Let's just say that Giacometti was setting out to draw a face. If he started with the chin, he would worry that he might never reach the nose. The longer he sketched the face, the harder he tried to offer a faithful representation of it, the more it resembled a skull. The only thing left was the gaze. So what he ended up drawing was a skull with a gaze.
Landscape with Dog and Other Stories is made up of countless such moments: transformations of the everyday, encounters between the known and the unknowable. Contemporary Athens wavers before us; the outlines of a sketch darken and blur; the face of a friend is at once beloved and strange. In Ersi Sotiropoulos's prose, the slightest event, the slightest change in the quality of the light, can alter everything. Karen Emmerich brings perfectly into English the precise, vibrant movement of Sotiropoulos's language, the mastery that has made her one of Greece's most acclaimed writers. These stories will be praised for their flashes of beauty and their crackles of dark humor, but what makes them so memorable is something else, impossible to pin down, something like the gaze of the skull. At once familiar and troubling, compelling and unapproachable, Sotiropoulos's stories give us a new way of seeing.


"Greek author Sotiropoulos (Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees) depicts the hollow, deceptive civility hidden within intimate relationships in this capably translated story collection featuring lovers, married couples, brothers and parents. In 'An Almost Guinea Fowl,' a husband and wife pull away from the brink of marital collapse after a dinner party game of Truth or Dare. A young man drifts toward waste and inertia over an adolescent romance gone sour in 'Kissing the Air.' 'Aren't You Going to Walk the Dog?' features a mother and her teenaged daughter facing off in a rancorous, controlling game of chicken. Other stories showcase the author's dark, effective devices, such as throwing together antipathetic characters in unfamiliar locales: in 'The Pinball King,' two sparring brothers and an Italian tourist couple wind up lost on the way to Delphi, eventually taking refuge with a goat-herding couple. Each story demonstrates compelling depth and breadth, and involves heavy emotional stakes; perhaps the most nerve-wracking are the author-fan confrontation in 'So You Like Literature' and the estranged father-daughter relationship in 'Rain at the Construction Site.'" --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Ersi Sotiropoulos's fiction owes a significant debt to her early work as a poet. Her stories in Landscape with Dog are pure electric, with the passion, energized wit and inevitability of the lyric poem. The surfaces are well-constructed, the characters often quirky and troubling and, like lines from a favorite poem, stay with the reader year after year." --Paul Vangelisti

"Ersi Sotiropoulos's short stories are jaggedly sharp and unsettlingly beautiful--and they are like none other being written today in any language. You have to go back to Cesare Pavese to find short fiction from Europe this vivid, lived-in, urgent and artful; Sotiropoulos writes as if her life depended on it. Landscape with Dog and Other Stories is a marvel." --Benjamin Anastas

"I loved these stories. They are vintage Sotiropoulos: electric, vivid, sensual, surprising." --Lynn Freed



Landscape With Dog collects seventeen stories by Ersi Sotiropoulos, most set in her native Greece (and a few in Italy). Most deal with close relationships, featuring a couple (or, perhaps more appropriately in some cases: a pair) or a small and somehow connected group. There is intimacy, and a variety of forms of love and passion -- but also distance and separation: few unions here survive, rare are the cases when the protagonist (often writing in the first person) is not left, at least in some way, to him- or herself.
       The stories are told in both the first and third person, and while many offer only what seem like relatively simple scenes-from-the-lives-of the characters they suggest a great deal about these lives and relationships. In almost all there is a failure to connect among the characters; expectations and hopes are dashed -- often unrealistic or absurd ones, as in 'An almost guineas fowl', in which the promise of a guinea fowl upsets the small-family order that seemed to have held so well until then.
       'Rain at the construction site' is perhaps the most representative work, with its lone protagonist, Loukas, who: "had known better times":
He got married and they had a beautiful girl with velvety eyes and skin like sugar. One summer the captain let him take his wife and daughter on a free trip. Something happened on that trip that still wasn't clear in his mind. His wife and daughter disembarked in Ancona to go shopping and never came back. Three months later he got a letter postmarked La Spezia, asking for a divorce. That was ten years ago and he hadn't seen either of them since.
       The story recounts both a phone call he receives from his long-lost daughter, and an encounter he has with a woman who has car trouble, and his fumbling efforts at connection with both. There's a touch of softness to the story, but Sotiropoulos remains brutally honest: there's little room left for any self-deception in her characters' lives any longer, and she'll not sugarcoat her stories for anyone.
       Predictably, even in a story where passion blooms and insatiable appetites are fed (and the protagonist is entirely successful: "Her book was almost finished and showed extraordinary promise. She was usually modest, but she knew that when it was published it would leave everyone speechless, even the sternest critics") Sotiropoulos does not allow a happy ending; it's one of the few stories that also feels somewhat forced, both in the good the characters enjoy, and the simple way out of the end.
       Sotiropoulos' stories are not dreary but they are dark and depressing; the fact that they feel true-to-life doesn't make it easier to make one's way through the whole lot. Smoothly written and translated, these are very readable tales, and Sotiropoulos' style and storytelling-approach do impress. But readers may well feel some of the characters' frustrations -- of life's many unfulfilled hopes and expectations -- too. - M.A.Orthofer
http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/greece/sotirope.htm




Reading Ersi Sotiropoulos’s collection of short stories, Landscape With Dog, brings to mind the Surrealist masterpiece by Giorgio de Chirico, “Melancholy and Mystery of a Street.” Much like Chirico’s painting, most of Sotiropoulos’s stories are textual cul-de-sacs, seemingly expansive but surprisingly claustrophobic, tinged with dark corners, a series of streets that lead nowhere, leaving readers to puzzle over wonderfully unrealized moments and conclusions. There are no easily recognizable beginnings, middles, or ends in these stories. Take, for instance, the conclusion to the “The Pinball King,” the title story of one of her collections in Greek:
My brother and I looked at each other. In the stony white light his eyes were almost transparent, smashed irises under papery lids. The heat became more and more suffocating as we drove. Outside Delphi the goatherd’s package of feta began to stink and we threw it away in a parking lot on the side of the road.
“The Pinball King” is only one of many stories that follow a discursive route to a conclusion that is never really that, a conclusion. The story itself is about a brother and sister accompanying a pair of Italian tourists, Ugo and Erica, to the ancient and famed archeological site of Delphi. Our protagonists lose themselves while searching for the tourist hot-spot, and we, the readers, become lost in attempting to unravel the rather complicated relationship between brother and sister; but answers are few and far between, and even a violent confrontation between the siblings is never really explained, making this last moment even more compelling.

Sotiropoulos’s prose is driven by imagery; it is surgically concise—something I attribute to her being an accomplished poet as well—and deceptively simple; it contains an aesthetic “depth” that stands in wonderful contrast to its naked surfaces, an extension, perhaps, of an aesthetics-of-distrust towards metaphorical and ornate language as practiced by many writers during the time of the Greek dictatorship of 1967-1974.
The title story “Landscape With a Dog,” for example, reads more like a prose poem than anything else but it also eschews anything like an overtly poetic language. The story slowly builds its feeling of disquiet through a constant layering of image after image, even though the ending we are given is also rather anticlimactic; its very first paragraph contains the following stark image: “In the terrible brightness that swept through the dark room, lead-colored crusts gleamed in his wide eyes as if he were blind,” and Sotiropoulos continues on this path, slowly but surely painting a lyrical textual vista.
“Landscape” is, appropriately enough, about a poet who is not quite certain what to do when a certain “someone,” a fan our narrator met “a long time ago, when [she] used to go to that bar where people read poems,” calls in the middle of the night and proclaims his love for her and her work. At some point in the story, Sotiropoulos presents us with the following:
Lying beside the dog, I stared at the bright patterns on the ceiling. There was one shape that looked like a helix and next to it a little white spot. The spot turned into an arrow and shot forward, the helix stayed behind while the arrow started to run from one edge of the room to the other, back and forth over the naked surface like a poem looking for the right word. Then it disappeared and the helix remained, hovering.
This is an exhilaratingly uncanny scene, and one that I still don’t really know what to make of. It might be a metaphor for the creative mind at work late at night, when the darkest shadows in a room present the roving imagination with a blank canvas on which to write. But I really don’t know. This moment is so evocative and strange precisely because the image it leaves us with invites and resists active interpretation, and note that it all beings with a “naked surface.”
There is in Sotiropoulos’s fiction a tendency to draw attention to its own naked surfaces, its almost flat prose, a Modernist ethos one can trace back to Cubism, or even further back to Oscar Wilde’s claim that only shallow people do not judge by appearances. In a Nietzschean sense of value reversal, surface is argued to be just as important as any supposed depth.

But these revelatory glimpses, it should be noted, are not of the sublime, metaphysical kind—there is a stark materialist streak in Sotiropoulos. Consider “The Exterminator,” a story about an unnamed writer on a Greek island looking for a semblance of serenity in which to write her book (the island itself is quite a change of pace for Sotiropoulos’s narratives; they are usually much more concerned with the urban side of contemporary life in Greece). Our writer, however, cannot get any work done, distressed by the rodents and roaches that have infested her house:
Her nights had become nightmarish. She could hear the mice running through the kitchen and into her room, hiding under her bed, could feel them tugging at the sheets. It was impossible for her to concentrate. She had stopped writing. She tried all kinds of poisons, even the strongest; she cleaned out the cupboards and sprayed the whole house. Bizarrely, the mice devoured whatever she left out for them but only got fatter and stronger.
Shades of Kafka’s and Clarice Lispector’s vermin are clear, but where (according to Tayt Harlin writing in Bookforum) Lispector turned the cockroach in her novel The Passion According to G.H. into an “indelibly grotesque image of God,” or where Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis can be read as symbolic of modern man’s plight in a world bereft of meaning, Sotiropoulos’s pests are restricted to corporeality and the tangibility of existence. They are not transcendent, they stand in our writer’s way: she is struggling to compose “a fictionalized biography of two British artists who, from the start of their careers, had lived together and created as if they were a single person,” but is too often distracted by the most grotesque and visceral images of bodily and animal life:
She had almost finished the first draft of her book when she got stuck on a single line. “We eat, we spit, we urinate, we defecate,” one of the artists had said during an interview, and she wasn’t sure if she should take it literally or as a somewhat cynical metaphor for the cycle of life. The fact that their final series had involved photographs of urine and sperm samples, magnifies under a microscope, supported the second supposition but wasn’t enough to resolve her doubts. She had seen the photographs; some of them showed fascinating shapes, exquisitely simple and original, like Paleolithic cave drawings. It was astonishing how much beauty there could be in a strangers’ revolting urine and sperm; she shivered in her chair at the thought, and new, more complex interpretations raced through her mind. She rose and was pacing rapidly up and down the room, trying to assess these new ideas, made dizzy by the possibilities opening up before her, when she noticed an equally beautiful shape, abstract and minimalist, on the floor in the hall. It took her five minutes to figure out it was a pile of mouse droppings.
Here, it is the most base functions of existence, the production of excrement, that disturbs and confounds the writer, preventing her from creating art. There is a materiality to existence, in other words, that perplexes and disrupts understanding and, therefore, falls beyond our capacity for signification, an example of Lacan’s notion of the Real. The story concludes with that most corporeal of realities, death:
She found him face up on the bed, his blue eyes open, his white belly swollen like a balloon. His protective mask and duffle bag were by the door. The pump had been tossed on the floor, and was still dripping. The puddles of rat poison glowed wetly. When had he had time to spray? was the riddle she had to solve before she started to cry.
But death is just another surface, another site that resists understanding and interpretation. Death, and by extension life, is the “riddle” that will never be solved, bringing to mind, once again, the fact that Sotiropoulos is much more interested in asking pointed questions than providing answers; this approach can, at times, prove frustrating to readers if one is looking for conclusions and solutions. But such indeterminacy works well for a variety of reasons in these stories: firstly, as an extension of the spirit of late-’70s writing in Greece, as mentioned above; second, as an extension of a Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetics that Sotiropoulos is clearly a part of; and finally, her textual cul-de-sacs provide glimpses of the vibrant, and rather chaotic, world that is Modern Greece, a country that is currently undergoing a variety of crises as it attempts to determine where it belongs in the global landscape.

If there is one issue I have with this English-language edition of Sotiropoulos’s work it has more to do with the general politics behind “anthologies” than the actual quality of the work. (Sotiropoulos is a fine writer, one worthy of a larger audience in translation, and she is fortunate to have translators as accomplished as Karen Emmerich, who translated the stories under review here, and Peter Green, who worked on the novel Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees.)
Landscape’s stories have been selected from two previous collections, an act that tends to disrupt the unity achieved by well-composed collections, such as Sotiropoulos’s. It is difficult enough to get a feel for an author’s progression as an artist when reading their work in translation, but reading a best-of collection diminishes the aesthetic and particular social conditions that gave rise to their specific texts. This is clearly not the translator’s fault, nor the publisher’s—they should be applauded for attempting to publish the best of Sotiropoulos’s work. However, a collection of short stories, much a like a series of paintings or tracks on an album, exist in unison for a reason, and it is much easier to make sense of an author when she is presented as originally published (while being completely aware, of course, that this is not a complete panacea for reading an author in translation).
There is, for example, a rather sexually explicit story that appears in the Greek collection The Pinball King titled “The Cunt in the Heat” that does not appear in Landscape With Dog. Leaving aside the merits of whether or not this particular story in itself is as good as the ones that appear in Landscape, the inclusion of it, along with certain others, perhaps, would have given us a much more complete view of the author at hand. This is a particularly important point to bring up in light of reading Sotiropoulos, since her novel, Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees, was just recently under attack by right-wing zealots in Greece for its supposedly pornographic scenes and its anti-nationalist leanings. (Happily, Landscape does possess its own strident critiques of nationalist ideologies, most compellingly in the story “The Champion of Little Lies.”)
That Sotiropoulos is enraging Greece’s political right is perhaps one final, extra-textual confirmation of her value as a writer. It was Roberto Bolaño who said that one of the virtues of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s work was that it drove nationalists into a rage; Sotiropoulos, in other words, is in fine company. -
http://quarterlyconversation.com/landscape-with-dog-and-other-stories-by-ersi-sotiropoulos


Ersi Sotiropoulos, a virtuoso of postmodern Greek fiction, masters the short story in her collection, Landscape with Dog and Other Stories. Sotiropoulos, whose 2000 novel Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees, won both the national Greek book award and the book critics award, continues to use her deft sense of psychological insight and poetic language to give us portraits of the intimate and the abstract.
From the very first story, there is a familiarity that draws the reader in, that reminds of something comforting. But Sotiropoulos layers on top of that security a sense of foreboding. There is an ambiguity to her scenes and to her characters so that we are left to question our own instincts. She infuses the narrative of each story with a controlled terror that makes characters relationship seem like they could snap at any moment. Yet, she never gives us that release or makes it that easy for the reader, that definitive. The beginnings, middles and ends are blurry and we are left to decide where the story began and ended. This is not to say that the stories in this collection are not definitive, they are. They present the moments in life that fall into the grey area, that at one point may look white and then years later, pitch black. This requires a very deliberate prose, a deep understanding of narrative tension and skilled working knowledge of human behavior. Even more impressive is that Karen Emmerich’s translation let’s all of Sortiropoulos’ style and depth showcase itself in a sparse fluidity. The best way to understand what Sortiropoulos has to offer is to read this excerpt from “Christmas with Leo,” which is an woman addressing her dog after she tells him a story, but somehow it feels as if she is addressing the reader:
He isn’t satisfied with the denouement. He wants something more, I know. A happy ending or some big drama. But there’s nothing I can do. That something doesn’t exist. And I don’t want to lie to him. For a while we eye one another, tense as a dog and cat. Then he lays his head on my shoulder and sighs deeply. We sit there side by side, motionless, watching the lights on the tree.
And that’s how we feel as we read engaging story after engaging story, we come to terms with what she gives us, with what life gives us. Big things happen, but it’s in the moments, hours, days, and years later that we parse it out emotionally. She lets us see those moments when we know something is about to happen and illuminates in them the fear of the inevitable. All of this is done with an agile poetic hand that turns away from the lyrical but hits head on the dense and minimal, as shown in the story “The Woman” where she describes a couple making love upstairs, “their headboard hitting the wall rhythmically, monotonously. Tock, tock. An epilectic’s morse.” Details like that rise out of the narrative with a subtle and thunderous boom and it’s difficult to escape the oppressive quality of these stories.
Finding a convenient way out of her stories is difficult and that makes her challenging and simultaneously satisfying. Sotiropoulos gives us no directives. She leads us down a path but we never end up where we think we are going. The reader is expecting doom and is on edge waiting for it, like in “An Almost Guinea Fowl,” where a couple, Maro and Telis, invite over another couple to enjoy the guinea fowl that they bought which turns out to not to be guinea fowl, but some cheaper substitute. As the evening progresses, Telis threatens to tell the guests while they are in the nursery, tending to their crying infant:
“Tell them,” he said listlessly. “Tell them, if it’ll make you feel better.”
Maro started to cry, little sobs that kept getting louder. Her tears fell on the baby, who woke up and wriggled around in the crib. She picked him up and pressed his forehead to her wet cheeks. He was warm and very soft, almost spineless, and every so often his little body would give an irritated jerk as if shot through by an electric current. Suddenly he let out a loud shriek and hit her face with his head.
“I’m going back,” Telis said.
She stood there in the half darkness, with her back against the door and the baby in her arms. They were both crying, pressed up against each other, and the sound of their breathing, fitful and erratic, pierced the milky light of the room.
Scenes like this pull us along in search of a resolution. The couple in trouble, the dysfunctional mother and son, the depressed writer become fertile emotional landscapes that Sotiropoulos mines for fissures that happen long before the final break happens. It’s her acuity of the small breaks in relationships that drive this collection and make it fraught with an anxiety that is enervating and invigorating. Landscape with Dog and Other Stories lets us see what a consummate writer she is who has the power to capture the tiny moments of discomfort and doesn’t dare to give us answers, but to let us find our own way. - Monica Carter
www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/2010/02/12/landscape-with-dog-and-other-stories-by-ersi-sotiropoulos-btba-2010-fiction-longlist/


To gain a wide and appreciative international audience, writers need to be published in English translation, as is happening with most European authors. Ersi Sotiropoulos, an acclaimed Greek novelist and short story-writer in her own country, became known internationally when her fifth novel, Zig-zag through the Bitter Oranges, was published in translation in 2006. The novel described as the ‘best novel of the decade’ had won both the Greek State Prize for Literature and the Book Critics Award.
Landscape with Dog and Other Stories was published in 2010. It was brilliantly translated by Karen Emmerich. Authors can be greatly helped if they leave their work in capable hands. Translation is not easy, and when it is not done properly it can ruin an author’s work.  It is an art form, where the novel needs to read as though it had been thought and written in English in the first place. This is what Karen Emmerich does with the work in hand.
In this slim book, Sotiropoulos presents a collection of 17 stories mostly set in Greece, a few in Italy. The main topic is the relationship between couples: married, lovers, parents, siblings. They are honest, matter of fact, true-to-life accounts of ordinary events that can occur in most relationships, and yet one is aware of great depth underneath the apparent simplicity. The author chooses a deliberately flat style which makes very easy reading, at the same time creating images, strange and evocative, that defy an easy interpretation. Being a postmodern author, Sotiropoulos offers fragmentary, snapshot views of people and leaves it up to us to construct what is actually happening between them.
The stories are like a series of alleyways leading nowhere and the reader is left to guess what is happening or what could have been. There are no beginnings or endings in the conventional sense. Questions are raised but no solutions are provided… none, at least, that could allow for an easy conclusion. In one of the more tender stories (Christmas with Leo), after the narrator recounts to her dog, Leo, the story about her love affair, she remarks:
‘He isn’t satisfied with the denouement. He wants something more, I know. A happy ending or some big drama. But there is nothing I can do. That something doesn’t exist.  And I don’t want to lie to him’.
Sotiropoulos is also an accomplished poet, so the stories have a strong emphasis on imagery, which is piled layer on layer and contrasts sharply with the simplicity of the prose. In effect, the titular story reads like a prose poem.
The Exterminator, on the other hand, carries a nightmarish, Kafkaesque atmosphere. A writer trying to find some serenity to finish her work is living on an island where her room is invaded by rodents and roaches. She tries all kinds of poison to kill them. Instead, they only increase: ‘The rodenticides seemed also to have an aphrodisiac effect: she had the impression that the mouse population was steadily increasing. The mice now roamed freely through the house even before it got dark, went on walks with their kids, had parties and invited friends from neighbouring fields and barns’.
When she calls the exterminator in an attempt to get rid of them, he is the one who dies.  But even in this encounter with death, the authors resists any facile interpretation or understanding.
The Pinball King tells the story of a brother and sister accompanying a pair of Italian tourists driving to Delphi. They get lost on the way and end having a Dionysian feast with a goatherd and his wife. But the enigmatic relationship between the siblings is never explained up to the end of the story.
Sotiropoulosis is one of Greece’s most challenging postmodern writers. At home, she has been attacked by extreme right wing factions for a non-national ideology which is at times present in her writings but not evident in this volume.
The stories in Landscape with Dog are all compellingly rich and readable, while gently teasing one’s intellect. - ROSE LAPIRA
www.maltatoday.com.mt/arts/books/14205/book-review-landscape-with-dog#.XXZcAWewfIU


A new collection of multi-themed short stories, Landscape With Dog and Other Stories”, by acclaimed Greek writer Ersi Sotiropoulos, “a writer who has raised the bar for contemporary Greek Fiction”, according to John Chioles of New York University,  is receiving high praise from many quarters.  Published by Clockroot Books, the stories, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich, have been described by critics as “jaggedly sharp and unsettlingly beautiful,” and “electric, vivid, sensual, surprising”.
Ms. Sotiropoulos has written six novels, a book of poetry, and scripts.  “Zigzag through the Bitter Orange Trees”, the first novel ever to win both the Greek National Literature Prize and Greece’s Book Critics’ Award, is her only novel thus far to be translated into English, however, numerous journals, including the Harvard Review have published her short fiction and poetry in English translation.  Her work has also been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.
Karen Emmerich, a translator of Modern Greek poetry and prose, was nominated for a National Book Critics’ Circle Award for poetry translation in 2006 for her Miltos Sachtouris’s “Poems (1945-1971)”.  She has also translated novels by Vassilis Vassilikos and Amanda Michalopoulou, among others.
Ms. Sotiropolous answered questions from the sixth International Poetry Festival in Granada, Nicaragua, where, invited to read her poetry, she joined poets from 64 countries in the festival’s aim to promote cultural exchange between poets from different generations and nationalities. - Vicki James Yiannias
read the INTERVIEW

Slikovni rezultat za Ersi Sotiropoulos, Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees
Ersi Sotiropoulos, Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees


Zigzag through the Bitter Orange Trees was published in Greece in 2000, where it was acclaimed as the best novel of the decade and became the first novel to win both the Greek State Prize for Literature and the prestigious Book Critics' Award. In Zigzag through the Bitter Orange Trees we enter the lives of four young people in modern Greece: Lia, ailing in the hospital of a mysterious disease; her brother Sid, her only remaining connection to the outside world; Lia's nurse Sotiris, an unstable blend of ambition and desire; and thirteen-year-old Nina, whose daydreams lead her to wander far from home. These four unforgettable voices intertwine to tell a story of both relationship and isolation; with dark humor and disarming power, Sotiropoulos portrays the world of the young-hopeful and apathetic, beautiful and grotesque.

"Sotiropoulos is one of the most challenging, uncompromising, and original novelists writing today." -- Stratis Haviaras

"What a pleasure to have Ersi Sotiropoulos in English at last. Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees is vibrant and tart and a delight to read." -- Lynn Freed


At the heart of this darkly comic story told in four quirky voices is a young woman named Lia, who lies dying in a contemporary Athens hospital that's surrounded by bitter orange trees; the fruit falls and rots as she wastes away. Two lonely men frequent her room: a sadistic male nurse named Sotiris, and Lia's misanthropic younger brother, Sid. Lia imparts to Sid snippets of possibly fictitious family history and asks him to punish Sotiris for tormenting her. Socially inept Sid conceives and carries out an elaborate payback scam, but as a result becomes entangled with Sotiris and his family. The fourth voice is that of a child named Nina, who loses her innocence but none of her determination in an encounter with Sotiris. Increasingly intricate parallels and connections among the characters become political, cultural, outrageous and, ultimately, hopeful. Despite a few disappointing passages of hackneyed realism (a telemarketer with a phonetically rendered Chinese accent, for instance), the story, aided by Green's fluid translation, moves quickly. Sotiropoulos describes shame and alienation so effectively that the narration feels voyeuristic—in a good way. - Publishers Weekly


Four young lives intersect in contemporary Greece.
Athenian slacker Sid spends days on the couch, heckled by pet mynah bird Maria, and nights in the taverna, where he meets the vaguely Goth girl Julia, his idea of a black-magic woman. They have a desultory affair. Sid’s sister Lia is in an Athens hospital, expected to die of a rare ailment, the exact nature of which her doctor can’t—or won’t—disclose. Her nurse-nemesis, Sotiris, hails from a coastal village and makes frequent visits home, where he stalks a young girl. His quarry is Nina, age 13, sent by her parents to live with her aunt and help out in the aunt’s café. From afar, Nina worships a boy summering in the village with his bourgeois family. A budding writer, she is acutely attuned to her surroundings and condemns other people as “zombies.” She senses she is being followed, and at one point, Sotiris exposes himself to her. Lia asks Sid to get even with Sotiris. Sid, posing as Sotiris’s old school friend Thanási, saddles him with Maria the mynah. Lia sneaks a look at her medical file, and is caught by Sotiris, who slugs her. From then on, he lives in fear she’s going to report him. She’s learned her diagnosis, “Hcnvmb,” a condition, her doctor explains, in which the body’s immune system rallies to fight a non-existent virus. Summoned to the village by Sotiris, Sid/Thanási witnesses the departure of Nina’s crush, Stephanos. Sotiris then enlists him in a failed attempt to “get rid” of Nina. Back in Athens, Sotiris meets Julia, a student physician’s assistant. They get engaged. She notes the strange coincidence of two boyfriends with the same mynah. Shortly after a last visit to Lia, Sid recalls, with odd detachment, the fact that she died alone after he ignored her request to stay the night.
Some memorable detail and wry observations, but capricious character behavior and too many anticlimaxes will frustrate readers. - Kirkus Reviews


Ersi Sotiropoulos has written many books, only a few of which have appeared in English. These have had little fanfare or general attention. This is a great loss to discriminating readers for she has a stature surpassing that of many better-known writers and she deserves a wider audience.
Zigzag is a freewheeling exercise in absurdity as told by the voices of a quartet of characters. Lia, dying from a rare disease – a disease invented by Sotiropoulos – enlists her brother Sid to revenge her on Sotiris, a male nurse with an unpleasant manner. Nina is a young girl to whom Sotiris exposes himself when he is on a home visit to his village. As a budding writer she becomes the spokesperson for Sotiropoulos. These four voices power the story in a plot that is disciplined but not ostentatiously purposive. It is Sotiropoulis’ great distinction that she can unfold the events of Zigzag suspensefully with each page a surprise for the reader.
She does not shun coincidence and the neat mesh of events creates its own statement on the nature of the novel and of writing fiction. Lia, Sid, Sotiris, and Nina are as carefully drawn as they need to be and no more. This gives them a flexibility that fits the requirements of Sotiropoulos’ plot gracefully as she progresses from relationship to relationship with shifting and showy results. Lia’s illness becomes the shifting ground on which the story slides feverishly from event to event and constitutes the background of insecurity and doubt that surrounds Sid’s every act.
Sid’s revenge on Sotiris is ingenious and consists in unloading on him a surly mynah bird. To do this he has to lead a double life and in the intensity with which he pursues his purpose, he loses Juliet who turns up in Sotiris’ life and becomes his fiancé.
Sotiropoulos draws her minor characters sharply. The staff of the hospital with its charismatic Dr. Kalotychos, the nursing staff, and the patients – described unsympathetically but realistically as monsters – constitutes the closed, stifling world of the ill and their attendants and Sotiropoulos misses no detail to draw the minor hell of the
hospital world.
Unlike many authors who come to us English speakers from relatively unknown parts of the earth, Sotiropoulos makes no attempt to bring before us in any obvious way the locale of her world. She makes no deliberate attempt at specificity of color and place, but the difference arises naturally from the story itself and the reader is vividly aware of the setting, partly like our own thanks (?) to global Americanization and partly and undeniably exotic.
This is a swiftly paced book that is easy to read but has a staying power in the reader’s mind that marks it as the work of an imaginative writer of genius. Unreservedly recommended. - Bob Williams
www.compulsivereader.com/2006/12/24/a-review-of-zigzag-through-the-bitter-orange-trees-by-ersi-sotiropoulos/


This novel doesn’t have much of a plot, it’s disconnected in a consciously Modernist way, and yet it grabs the reader immediately. We hardly know the four protagonists, but they come to life and stick in the mind. And then there’s the writing, beautiful, evocative, deeply moving:
“Late that night it began to rain: a cleansing downpour that fell with a steady roar from the burst clouds. Sid didn’t hear the rain. In his sleep he sensed the unexpected coolness stealing into the room and spreading out like a cold compress over the baking walls. He felt an airy sprite approach and stroke his forehead. He didn’t hear the mynah bird frantically beating its wings inside its cage. He didn’t hear the shutters banging, or the rush of water in the storm drains. It rained and rained. The city flushed itself out.”
The fifth novel by distinguished Greek writer Ersi Sotiropoulos, “Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees” has been brilliantly translated by a distinguished American professor emeritus of classics. Modern Greek is quite different from its antecedent, but clearly Peter Green has an affinity for the contemporary language. The translation pulsates with vigor and is full of nuance. Sotiropoulos played a considerable part, Green writes, in transforming her “highly idiomatic Greek” into equally colloquial English prose. The reader is always lucky when there is this kind of input from the author, think of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s role in translating his work from Yiddish into marvelous English after decades in America.
“Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees” presents its particular Athens approaching the millennium through the eyes of Lia, a young woman dying of a mysterious disease in a hospital very different from a modern American one; her ne’er-do-well brother Sid; her nurse Sotiris; and a rebellious 12-year-old girl, Nina. Lia is the heart of the novel, by far the most arresting. It’s not just the poignancy of a brave young woman facing her premature death, it’s the quality of her insights that sets her apart:
“Physical decay starts in an odd fashion. With no warning. The way Scandinavians get drunk. One minute they’re talking to you quite normally, the next they’re throwing up on you. The way your body quits is much the same. One day you’re fine, well, more or less fine. The next, one after another your organs begin to go on the blink…. A familiar noise reaches you, muffled in cottonwool and transformed into something terrifying. The ticking of a clock grows thick in the air, dominating the entire room.”
Two things mar this admirable novel. One is an occasional coarseness that intrudes into this otherwise sensitive piece of work: Need there be quite so much of spitting contests and need they be described quite so disgustingly? The other is the footnotes explaining cultural and mythological references. Some of us really do know what hydra-headed means. Despite these flaws, “Zigzag” is a delightful read. - grhomeboy
grhomeboy.wordpress.com/2007/04/22/zigzag-through-the-bitter-orange-trees-by-ersi-sotiropoulos/


Ersi Sotiropoulos on the Correlation between Art and Life and Literature as a Way to the Non-Existent and the Inevitably Potential


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