Among the many riches in Issue 16 of the Quarterly Conversation is a wonderful interview with Greek writer Amanda Michalopoulou, whose I’d Like came out this fall from Dalkey Archive, in translation by Karen Emmerich. (I’ve not yet read I’d Like, unfortunately, but it’s so high on my list, and this interview makes me even more anxious to start—)
The interview, conducted by George Fragopoulos (GF, below) and attended also by Karen (KE), reflects on non-linearity in fiction; on the necessity of leaving one’s “home” to write (a feeling that is foreign to me, and fascinating, and which I’ve heard our own Ersi Sotiropoulos reflect on as well: “I have to leave Greece to be there,” she once said at a reading); on emotional vs. intellectual approaches to projects; and much else (I love the line “Sometimes the book asks for certain things that you have to offer”). I wanted to note in particular Michalopoulou’s discussion of the influence of Margarita Karapanou:
GF: But I’d Like also has a grotesque or violent side to it, and they made a lot more sense to me when you mentioned Karapanou in that interview with Monica, and how she was a precursor for you. Can you speak a little about Karapanou’s influence on your work, especially because a lot of English readers know very little about her?
KE: But they will! Kassandra and the Wolf is being republished, along with two earlier novels in fall 2009 and spring 2010.
AM: Well, what can I say about Karapanou? She’s a major influence although I know I can’t write like her. And this is the best influence because I knew I could never imitate her. It was so intense and so real, and never imitating anything else. Her work was so original. And it was such an original voice and reading her diaries, which just came out, and reading her entries from thirteen years old, you could already see her voice. You could listen to this voice and see it was already there. What I admire in her is her originality. But of course, it was a very sad life story, and when I say to myself that you are not as original as some other writers you admire it all goes along with a whole other private history. But I feel that nobody has talked about childhood the way she did, really, in Kassandra. If she wasn’t Greek, but was American or German, I feel everybody would know her. Everybody could recognize themselves in her writings about childhood. And she was not at all your typical Greek author; she read widely in American and French literature and was always an outsider in a sense.
KE: And if you think of many Greek writers, it is incredibly common to be moving between languages, to be moving between places, so she is typically Greek in the sense that she is coming form the “outside” or writing as she does in The Sleepwalker. She is writing about the island of Hydra in The Sleepwalker, magnified a thousand-fold and turned into this surreal, weird place by combining foreign and Greek elements and composing characters who are shadow puppets in a way. And this is what stuck me about I’d Like. Not in terms of style or structure but in terms of characters it is your most Greek book in that it takes place only in Greek and there is nobody in it that is not Greek.
And then, just to point out again the fact of the riches of other literatures we must trust others to discover, to bring back for us, our debt always to translators for everything: a discussion of one of Michalopoulou’s characters reading Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (and Stephen Mitchell’s translations of Rilke into English)—