Posts Tagged ‘Rien ne va plus’

On Karapanou

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

This week brings two excellent online features on Margarita Karapanou and the newly released The Sleepwalker. First, a wonderful, in-depth review in the new issue of Words Without Borders:

“Originally published in 1985 after her harrowing fictional debut Kassandra and the Wolf, Karapanou’s second novel The Sleepwalker confirmed her reputation as one of Greece’s most talented postmodern writers and one of her most imaginative chroniclers of human alienation. Part dystopia part satire, this surreal tale of lost souls, and a dethroned deity, is not so much a murder mystery as it is a murderer’s mystery: the reader knows who is killing the islanders, but is left to wonder about the killer’s motives and real identity.”

Read the rest here.

And just up at the Quarterly Conversation: an online roundtable discussing Karapanou and her work. Writers, translators, and scholars Nick Germanacos, Karen Emmerich, Amanda Michalopoulou, Karen Van Dyck, and Angela Dimitrakaki talk about Karapanou’s ouevre in Greek and in English translation, her critical reception and place in Greek literature, her biography, and more, in a fascinating, wide-ranging, profoundly thought-provoking conversation. Some excerpts:

Amanda Michalopoulou: There are writers who make you want to go back into writing. Karapanou makes you want to go back into living your life. She also belongs to this rare community of writers who work beyond influence; they are on their own. When I was in my twenties I tried to imitate my favorite writers, but with Karapanou it never worked. Her voice was so unique and what I wished for was just to listen to her voice. Her atmosphere influenced some of my stories but at that young age I always felt that I failed to create an atmosphere as extraordinary and magical as hers. As she doesn’t belong to a group of writers, her influence within Greek literature is difficult to be measured. I am afraid Greek literature looks always for ethnic characteristics, for more “Greekness” and Karapanou goes beyond Greekness. She is not at all interested in that stuff. Her Hydra is primarily a psychological landscape.
Karen Van Dyck: I first understood the depth of Karapanou’s knowledge of English when I spent a week in Hydra with both her and her mother going over my translation of her mother’s novel The Straw Hats (which eventually came out under the English title Three Summers in 1995). Karapanou by this point was suffering much more obviously from the manic depression that had plagued her all her life. The drugs she was taking made her bloated and listless. I remember she would lie on the couch reading murder mysteries in the breezy open room overlooking the port while Liberaki and I argued over the meaning of words. But what repeatedly saved my translation were not so much these discussions, but the trenchant one-liners that Karapanou would interject every once and awhile with just the right American translation for the word we were hunting for. I emphasize American because if Karapanou wrote in English she would be an American writer not an English writer. Her short staccato sentences and the visual fireworks they set off are post Hemingway, pre Kurt Cobain.

Read in full here

Interview with Margarita Karapanou

Monday, November 15th, 2010

This isn’t new, and isn’t in English, but is a treasure worth sharing. Below is Margarita Karapanou’s famous television interview, given a few years before her death, in which she discusses her work, her struggle with mental illness, and her mother, the novelist Margarita Liberaki. (A summary I too must rely on, not able to understand for myself.) The whole interview is up on Youtube. If you don’t speak Greek, it’s a chance just to see and hear Margarita—

PRI’s The World on Karapanou & “cruel intentions”

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

At PRI’s “The World” an engaging take on cruelty & fiction, considering Karapanou’s Rien ne va plus and Veronique Olmi’s Beside the Sea:

In Véronique Olmi’s French bestseller, Beside the Sea, a mother brings her two children to a beachside hotel, then smothers them to death with a pillow. In Margarita Karapanou’s Rien Ne Va Plus, a married couple torture each other while the author punishes the reader with a series of contradictory plot lines. … Olmi is cruel to no conceivable end, but Karapanou uses pain to make a point.

Read here.

Margarita Karapanou: “Brutal event into elegant design”

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

The spring 2010 Review of Contemporary Fiction on Kassandra and the Wolf and Rien ne va plus:

“To read these two experimental works is to realize the magnitude of the loss when Greek novelist Margarita Karapanou died quite suddenly in 2008. Kassandra offers a disturbing portrait of childhood. A six year old girl, a stutterer, is victimized by sexual abuse she cannot begin to fathom, her vocabulary drawn from the lurid imagery of fairy tales (the wolf). So brutalized, Kassandra cannot express emotions: given a doll to love, she cuts off its legs and arms; given a kitten to tend, she beats it, drowns it, and then lovingly wraps it in a blanket. The novel disquiets, un-eases, disturbs, but intrigues. There is a coolness to its execution, Karapanou’s testing of the limited perceptions of an emotionally damaged child who cannot speak for herself compels focus less on harrowing events and more on their translation into lyric story. The same is true of the later work, Rien ne va plus. Karapanou executes a deft experiment that suspends events between experience and their redesign into fiction. A passionate woman marries a gay veterinarian, falls precipitously out of love with him, samples the ‘exotic’ spell of a lesbian relationship, and ultimately returns to her husband only to abort the child they conceive—well, maybe. Karapanou also works in, in an intriguing contrapuntal fashion, the story of a woman, a novelist, finishing a manuscript that renegotiates the reality of her own failed marriage by conceiving it as the freighted allegory of a woman who marries a gay vet, who falls precipitously out of love with him, etc. Which story is ‘the’ story—the creation of a soon-to-be-published manuscript or the collapse of a relationship? Like Kassandra, the narrative is harrowing in its implications but cool to the touch, audacious in its uncompromising commitment to test the integrity of narrative itself. The title—the last call at a roulette table signaling the players are ready to hand their fortunes over to fate—reminds Karapanou’s reader of the privilege of narrative: rendering brutal event into elegant design.” —Review of Contemporary Fiction, Joseph Dewey

“Karapanou today remains a unique writer”—new review in Rain Taxi

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

In Rain Taxi‘s spring online edition, check out the review of Margarita Karapanou‘s Kassandra and the Wolf and Rien ne va plus.

… [R]eaders will also be delighted by what grounds Kassandra and the Wolf: Karapanou’s language. The word-pictures kaleidoscope—at times literally, as dinner becomes after-dinner games becomes Kassandra running down the stairs to demand of the housekeeper stories from the Greek Civil War—and at other times metaphorically (“A word like a snake stares at me: there’s a pot like Grandmother’s chamber pot, a mouth in the middle, and next to a nail scissors. . . . At the tail there’s a ladder. I count the scribbles, examine them closely. I like this word.”) In still more places, Karapanou pulls off being both literal and metaphorical at once: “I’m alone again. I stick my tongue out vaguely at Miss Benbridge because she’s driven away my friends and lovely pictures. I act the ape at her, the Chinaman, and then the frog. In a picture, I cover her in dung, turn her into a horsefly and a cockroach, and, finally, I turn her into a water glass, which I throw out of the window.”

Read in full here

Absinthe recommends Rien ne va plus

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Absinthe 13 showed up on my step last week, with not only what looks like an extremely tempting selection of Romanian literature, but a warm note on Rien ne va plus in the “Absinthe recommends” section.  I’ve been overdue to give Absinthe a well-deserved nod and thank you on this blog—for those of you who don’t yet know the magazine, it is a wonderful venue for translations from European literatures, and reviews thereof, and we at Clockroot were honored that it was one of the first places to welcome Ersi Sotiropoulos’s short stories in English, publishing the story “Stella,” which would later be collected into Landscape with Dog.  Check it out—

VQR on Rien ne va plus: “our lives are what is left to chance”

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

“Karapanou is one of Greece’s most beloved novelists, yet she remains relatively unknown in the US, despite having fans like John Updike and Jonathan Safran Foer. Rien ne va plus, originally published in 1991, has only now been translated into English, just one year after Karapanou’s death. A gesture toward the author’s continued legacy, this translation delivers the essence of the author’s style, a delicate balance between dark and light, haunting scenes cut with sharp ironic wit. Rien ne va plus, the phrase that is delivered in roulette when ‘the game becomes fate,’ is a central metaphor for Karapanou because her novel tells the story of the dissolution of a marriage twice: first from the point of view of the wife, the second using a rearrangement of themes from the first. Karapanou’s concern is the pain of love—the trauma of giving oneself over to another and the fear of trust—though Karapanou’s pleasure is analyzing how these emotions affect the subconscious depths of her characters. These feelings reverberate deeply in Rien ne va plus as the threads that lead the reader from one chapter to the next, wherein the history of the marriage she has created is playfully jumbled. As rien ne va plus connotes this feeling of either/or, win or lose, Karapanou’s treatment of fear and love worms its way into the reader’s memory with its suggestion that it is emotions that are sturdy, while our lives are what is left to chance.”

Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2010

This week at Clockroot: Two readings by Ersi Sotiropoulos and Karen Emmerich, and one art opening

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Please join us!

On Tuesday, February 9th, Ersi Sotiropoulos will read from Landscape with Dog and Other Stories with translator Karen Emmerich, at the Gallatin School at NYU. The reading is at 6, reception and signing at 7. For more information and location, see here.

On Thursday, February 11th, Book Culture and Columbia University’s Hellenic studies program will host a reading and discussion with Karen, Ersi, and professor Karen Van Dyck, celebrating Clockroot’s three new translations from the Greek: Landscape with Dog, and Margarita Karapanou‘s Rien ne va plus and Kassandra and the Wolf. 6:30 pm, at 536 West 112th St (between Broadway & Amsterdam), NYC—see here.

And up in our neck of the woods, artist Ihrie Means—whose fantastic paintings are the cover art for Kassandra and the Wolf and Rien ne va plus—has an opening at the Cummington Community House, Saturday, February 13, 6 to 9 pm.

Fully Immersed: Karen Emmerich on Translating Margarita Karapanou’s Rien ne va plus

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Translation is an act of collaboration. The final result is not just the hard labor of a cloistered translator, surrounded by brick wall and one small window that barely lets in light.  What goes on between writer and translator is a tricky relationship that involves a balancing of words, as well as interpretations and re-imaginings of those very same words.  And when the writer’s dead, that relationship gets even trickier.

Clockroot has been lucky enough to have Karen Emmerich translate the late Margarite Karapanou’s book Rien ne va plus. This book is complicated, the kind of novel that teaches the brain how to read it.  Intellectually thrilling, emotionally tumultuous, trying to imagine it in another language seems somewhat unreal.

Could you talk about your relationship to Karapanou’s work?

KE: I started reading Karapanou when I was in college, as a freshman or sophomore, with very bad Greek. Someone had recommended her to me because her language is fairly simple, and she tends to write in short sections—so for the beginning reader of Greek, her work is a good place to start. You can take a section a day, puzzle it out with a dictionary, and feel like you’ve achieved something by the end. So in a sense, Karapanou was really one of the people who taught me Greek.  I started with Rien ne va plus, and it just entranced me. I read everything of hers that we had in the library at Princeton, but it was always Rien that I kept returning to. Almost fifteen years later, I still find it fascinating, but I think there’s something about the book that can be incredibly powerful for a young person—and particularly a young woman—still trying to figure out this whole business of human relationships, and where the mental and emotional coincides with the real. At some point I decided to start translating the novel. I was helped along the way by Dimitri Gondicas, who heads the Hellenic Studies Program at Princeton. He’s one of the busiest people I know, but was enormously generous with his time. We would meet and sit down and read through the novel line by line, and he would point out any mistakes or misunderstandings. When I look back on it now, it’s just incredible, that he would have done that for me, and for her.

But I think Karapanou is the kind of writer who inspires generosity in others; people felt things for her even when they had never met her. I certainly did.

Many years have passed since then, and the translation went through too many drafts to count before it was published. When I started reworking it for publication a few years ago, everything had to be rethought anew—I had changed so much, as had my thinking about translation. So I guess in a way, this was also a book that taught me to translate. I later embarked on an earlier novel by Karapanou, as well, The Sleepwalker, which you’ll be publishing next year—and while I love that one, too, my relationship to Rien still feels special.

The back of the novel features that wonderful quote by the author: “Every time I want to write, I want to write love stories. But as soon as I pick up the pen I’m overcome by horror.”  This sentiment provides a sort of tonal infrastructure to this book.  As a translator, how did this tone affect– or complicate– your rendering of the novel?

KE: I guess I would say that there’s this kind of brutal emotional honesty to the book. There are all kinds of things that many readers might see as clichéd language, or clichéd scenes. There are parts of the book that are, for that reason, sort of embarrassing to read. The prose feels so exposed—and my impulse as someone responsible for bringing that prose over into English is to swaddle it a bit, give it some protection. Of course it’s an impulse I fought, especially after Karapanou’s death. The novel has come to seem to me a kind of document of her, as well.

I was recently at a talk given by Foteini Tsalicoglou, a close friend of Karapanou’s who edited a volume of letters to Karapanou from her mother, the writer Margarita Lyberaki. Tsalicoglou said something during that talk about Karapanou’s ability to make clichés come alive. She told a little anecdote about doing a reading with Karapanou for the book Perhaps, which the two of them co-authored, and at one point Karapanou turned to the audience and told them all, “I love you.” Just like that, simply, not in any affected way, with a kind of childlike sincerity that felt real, and was real, and moved everyone but maybe made them sort of uncomfortable at the same time.

For me, that’s the real essence of this book: the way it discomfits you, the way it makes you feel things you might not always want to feel. The reality of the emotions, even if the story itself is always put under erasure.

“Part Two” of the novel acts as a sort of interlude. It almost seems to define the concept of “rien ne va plus,” as this abstract space where anything can happen. Could you talk about how you came to see this section in relation to the rest of the novel?

KE: I think anyone else’s guess as to that second section is as good as mine—I’ve always found it puzzling. It’s definitely a meditation on creation, particularly literary creation, on the relationship of truth to fiction, perhaps on the inevitable fictionalization of all fact, on how any relation of an event is always going to involve some amount of interpretation.

Finally, could you say something on the duality of Rien Ne Va Plus?  Obviously a novel where the narrator tells two versions of the same dissolution gives the reader plenty to think and talk about. As immersed as you are in the material, though, what insight can you give us on the shape and structure of this piece?

KE: I’m not sure how much insight I can give—I may actually be too immersed in the material to see exactly what’s going on. The narrator gives two versions of what is ostensibly the same story: her relationship and marriage to a man named Alkiviades (a name that might have looked more familiar had I chosen to translate it as Alcibiades). In the first, much shorter version, Alki is something of a monster, and treats her pretty despicably. In the second version, she’s the one who treats him badly, running off to live with another man in the U.S. right after he proposes, things like that. At the end of the book—and I apologize if I seem to be ruining the ending, here, but I really don’t think I am—we’re told by the narrator that the first version was just a novel she wrote, her fictionalization of their life in which the roles were reversed, and life thus transmuted into art.

On the surface, that seems like a fine way of explaining the doubling in the book. But it’s just too easy, and there are too many holes. First of all, the “novel” of the first part is really only thirty or so pages long. Does that really count as a novel? And if we’re supposed to take the second version as the “truth,” what are we supposed to do with passages like the one describing the narrator’s stay in Connecticut, when a huge rainstorm creates an epic flood in which neighboring houses are washed from their foundations and go floating by like ships at sail? In other words, the retelling is full of things that are explicitly marked as fictional. The first version never departs from anything that could actually have happened, while the second version is far more fanciful. It also draws on all kinds of stereotypes, too. There’s one scene where the narrator spends days on end watching movies in bed—romances, thrillers, porn. Well, her narration also incorporates set scenes that seem at times to be lifted from those kinds of genre films: the visit to the psychiatrist’s office, the thriller-like dreams involving her aborted baby. Nothing in that second version of the story can really be trusted. And of course at the end of the novel we slip into a third-person narration of events; the narrator actually disappears into the text itself.

I guess what I’m getting at is, the book is far more complicated than it might seem on a first read. The line between fiction and reality is constantly being blurred, even within the world of the text itself.


Rien ne va plus: “An as-yet-undefined genre”

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

January’s issue of ForeWord Magazine includes a fantastic review of Rien ne va plus:

Rien Ne Va Plus tricks its reader by a rapid mid-point shift from realism to metafiction—but only after the reader has fallen in love with Karapanou’s writing, and her inimitable main character…

Read more!