In the Strandja Mountains, where Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece come together, a young graduate student, who left Bulgaria for the United States as a boy, reconnects with his grandfather, from whom the family has heard nothing for the past three years. Unsuccessful in his college studies and desperately in need of funds to pay off some loans, the youth has come to Klisura in southeast Bulgaria hoping to sell some family land and also to spend time with the grandfather he has not seen in fifteen years. Written by debut novelist Miroslav Penkov, who lived in Bulgaria until he was nineteen, the narrative breathes with the kind of exuberant realism which distinguishes the writing of someone who has actually lived through certain events, as opposed to the writing of someone who is “writing about” events which he may have observed but not fully lived. Specific, often charming, detail accompanies the descriptions of many events and cultural traditions, giving a new kind of liveliness to the story of the youth’s return to his homeland and to his meetings with the people who live there. Among them are the nestinari, men and women, often quite young, of priestly importance, who walk on red-hot coals without being burned during the once-a year religious celebration. The overwhelming presence of storks in the spring and summer also adds to the spiritual tone of everyday life in Klisura. An unusual – possibly unique – combination of coming-of-age novel and epic of Bulgarian history and culture, the narrative has the small focus of a young man with limited goals and the grand scope of a culture which has incorporated elements from its Christian, Muslim, and even pagan past over many centuries.
Category Archive for 'Greece'
Written in the 1890s and first published in 1902, The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamantis focuses on Hadoula, a poor woman of “scarcely sixty,” who has done little in her life other than serving others. As she explains in the opening chapter, she served her parents when she was a child, and, at seventeen, she became a slave to her husband and her children after that. Now she is slave to her grandchildren. Her eldest daughter Delcharo has just given birth to an infant who has been sick since its recent birth, and Hadoula has been using the step of the fireplace beside the baby’s cradle as her pillow, watching over the sick child every night for two weeks, almost without sleep. Living in a rural area of the island of Skiathos in Greece, two hundred fifty kilometers northeast from Athens, Hadoula has few, if any, resources to improve her life, and even fewer resources to enable her to help her daughters make better marriages than she herself did. Known also as Frankissa, or Frankojannu, names associated with her husband’s family, not her own, Hadoula remains at the bedside of her little grandchild, a little girl named for her during an emergency baptism when the baby’s prospects looked particularly bleak. She cannot help praying her accustomed prayer for little girls, however. “May they not survive! May they go no further.” As Hadoula thinks about the future of her youngest daughter Krinio, who is still unmarried, she muses, “Do there really have to be so many daughters? And if so, is it worth the trouble of bringing them up? Isn’t there…always death and always a cliff? Better for them to make haste above.” And finally, she begins to draw even more conclusions, leading to the title of this novel.
Greek author Fotini Tsalikoglou, in her first novel to be translated into English, introduces a man we come to know as Jonathan, along with the first of his family’s many mysteries. Jonathan has just boarded a plane from New York City to Athens, and while sitting next to an empty seat in the plane, he speaks to it as if it were “Amalia.” He is remembering an unnamed woman who dragged him, as a small child, to museums all over New York to see Greek statues and pediments, but who never had any interest in going to Greece herself. He is puzzled because, despite this behavior toward Greek art, she was clearly “revolted by her country.” Her name was Lale Andersen, a name she chose when she changed it from the original, and she was Jonathan’s “mutant mother.” What follows is a complex conversation in which two people, Jonathan and Amalia, through changing times and places, discuss with each other their shared childhoods and differing memories. The novel jumps around without warning, as he comments to himself about the plane trip and his decision to travel to Greece, interspersing observations in the present with memories from his past, including the sometimes bizarre events which have made a lasting impression upon him from his childhood, including one in which he believes he has met his father, a vagrant. Psychological and intense.
Author Amanda Michalopoulous develops her novel from the point of view of Maria Papamavrou, who is nine in the late 1970s, after the military dictatorship has ended; in her twenties in the 1990s; and in her mid-thirties in the early twenty-first century, and the novel shifts back and forth among these three time periods. When the novel first opens, Maria, now a thirty-five-year-old teacher in an elementary school, is confronting a difficult little girl who has just moved to Athens from Paris. Reminded of her own difficult past, Maria then reminisces about own life when she was a similar age as her new student. Maria arrives in Athens as a nine-year-old from Nigeria, where her father has been working. Her first days of school, filled with humorous detail, endear her to the reader immediately, as she gets into a fight with another student, deals with another who wants to know if a lion ate the missing part of her little finger, and what “fart on my balls” means. The arrival of Anna Horn, another new student, is the highpoint of her life, however, and when the imperious Anna rudely corrects the teacher, announcing that “We’re not immigrants, we’re dissidents,” Maria feels as if she has found a best friend – until Anna declares that “there are no dissidents in Africa. My mother says you’re racists who exploit black people.” Despite this inauspicious beginning, Anna and Maria become best friends for life – sort of.
When the son of Paul Hackett, an American, hears that he is the heir and currrent Byzantine emperor in exile, he is stunned, unable to imagine how these circumstances have evolved. He has lived with his mother’s family in Turkey ever since his parents divorced when he was two, and he has shared the name of his Turkish grandfather, ever since. Telling his own story, the speaker is now a successful businessman in his early thirties. An economist schooled at Columbia in New York and at the London School of Economics, he loves research and writing, and he is intrigued by the prospect of investigating the baffling announcement that he is truly the latest emperor-in-exile. Long fascinated by the history of the Byzantine Empire, which lasted for over eleven hundred years before being finally defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the speaker is anxious to investigate further. This unusual novel defies genre. The story as described above, resembles a fantasy, providing a framework for this novel, but it represents only a small part of the actual text. It is also a “quest story.” The speaker’s travels, typical of a quest, do not involve hardship, financial or otherwise, and this is not a travel narrative in which a main character faces dangerous obstacles as he travels to exotic places around the globe. Detailed information about the order of the emperors and how they ascended to their thrones, the people they killed (and often blinded), and how they themselves died sometimes make the novel sound like a complex history book, however. The term “Byzantine intrigue” takes on new meaning as the stories of the emperors unfold.