Posts Tagged ‘The Sleepwalker’

Karapanou in Australia, San Francisco, and beyond

Friday, January 13th, 2012

This week brought the lovely news that Margarita Karapanou’s The Sleepwalker is currently featured on the readers’ blog of Pages & Pages, an independent bookstore in… Mosman, Australia. “The Sleepwalker would make a terrific Book Club read,” the review notes, “I thoroughly enjoyed this highly imaginative novel with its blend of farce and tragedy and I highly recommend it to you.” Read the review in full here. And here’s to good distribution!

This is also a good time to note that Karapanou’s Rien ne va plus is currently a staff pick at the great indy Green Apple Books in San Francisco. Thank you to independent bookstores worldwide!

And The Sleepwalker also appeared on Scott Esposito’s list of “Favorite Reads of 2011“: “[A]n amazing little book, certainly one of the leanest, most interesting pieces of writing you will have the pleasure of reading.”

“Karapanou was a major force whose books demand to be read”

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Warm thanks to Scott Esposito for his review of The Sleepwalker in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. In full below, and link here:

This novel, or anti-novel, or collection of linked tours de force, opens with a bored and adolescent God vomiting a new savior onto an unnamed Greek island. Although in due time we discover that this new Christ is a bizarrely murderous, androgynous, sexually rabid police officer, this is only after Margarita Karapanou has abandoned her strange opening to introduce us to an assortment of blocked artists, homosexuals, and numerous other island dwellers. These characters resemble protagonists, but are more like fellow observers, albeit ones caught up in an increasingly lurid pageant that draws in everyone with the fascination of catastrophe. Karapanou’s book feels like a naïve form of modernism, each of the text’s short, storylike chapters a work of bricolage built from the diverse materials circulating in her cluttered mind. Like the best art, her plots unfold without self-consciousness or apparent purpose, yet they resist simple interpretations and have an impressive structural solidity. Her extremely muscular, tight prose makes a fine medium for the book’s relentlessly surreal, breathtakingly complex happenings, reminiscent of a Latin-inflected Pynchon. Though the book thus described may sound like a mess, The Sleepwalker in fact exudes a sense of strong thematic unity in its slow, relentless progress toward apocalypse—which, when it does arrive, is just as rich, satisfying, and inevitable as everything that has led up to it. If The Sleepwalker is any indication, Karapanou was a major voice whose books demand to be read.

And thank you as well to the RCF!

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

BOMBLOG discusses The Sleepwalker

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Elsbeth Pancrazi has interviewed Karen Emmerich for the BOMBlog—excerpt below:

EP What particular difficulties did you encounter, translating Sleepwalker?

sleepwalkerforwebKE Well, in a book that’s in English it’s very difficult for me to mark what’s in English in the original. When it’s French, I leave it in French. When it’s German, I leave it in German. Usually I say, “He said in English,” or—well, there are a few different approaches, but because of the typographical difference between the Greek alphabet and the Roman, this is much more striking in the original text. You can’t really reproduce that.

There’s just so much English. And people are speaking bad Greek and bad English. And at times even when you know they’re speaking English in the book, it’s written in Greek. It speaks to what one of the characters, Placido, calls “the problem of languages,” which is central to the book. So, that’s one of the things that I wish there was a better solution for.

EP Are there other things that are in that category? Things you never figured out?

KE Sometimes it’s hard to know until you hear what someone else thinks. My brother and I read one another’s stuff all the time and often I’ll tell him, “Michael, that is not English.” And he’ll be like, “Wait, we don’t say that?” Because you know what it means, you have it in your head as something that makes sense.

Sometimes going too close to the literal can be really productive. But you have to know that you’re doing it. There’s this phrase, siga siga, that literally means, “slowly, slowly.” As in, take your time, don’t worry about it, one step at a time. And I have translated that in poetry as “slowly, slowly,” because I think it’s really lovely. And people who know Greek will be like, “Oh, that is a bad translation.”

Read in full here.

Salonica’s holiday book guide, and notes for a future discussion

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

I was hesitant to blog about this for the embarrassing reason that I can’t even wrap my mind around the upcoming holidays.  But once I do, surely I will want resources such as Salonica’s Holiday Guide, recommending new international literature for gift giving. Interlink’s The Calligrapher’s Secret, by German-speaking Syrian-born author Rafik Schami, translated by Anthea Bell, is here under epics (“exquisite storytelling,” “a novel to be savored,” PW has just reported).  And Karapanou’s The Sleepwalker, translated by Karen Emmerich, is recommended under dark comedies, as a “holiday winner.”  Many thanks to Monica (for all her work year-round).

If we were to have a discussion in our comments some day (other than the usual blackjack casino tips and Cialis discounts, which I delete, after appreciating), I’d like it to be of whether The Sleepwalker is a comedy.  The Library of Congress categorized it as “Humorous Fiction,” at which Karen, Pam, and I all marveled.  It has passages that are truly profoundly funny.  But over all I find just devastating—hard even to keep looking at, as Pam says.  Dark comedy seems indeed closer, but still… I feel it just slays me.  Are there levels of comedy, tragedy, comedy, tragedy, and a book may be named by the reader’s ability to move finally, with great difficulty, to an ultimately comedic darkness?  Hmmm.  (Discuss?)

“The handsome, slim-hipped, tortured & violent son of God”

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Publishers Weekly reviews The Sleepwalker:

Reading the late Karapanou’s (1946–2008) dizzying novel, which won the French prize for best foreign novel, is like sleepwalking, as the title suggests. The story takes place on a small, unnamed Greek island steeped in intrigue, sexuality, deception, mysticism, and crawling with cheeky expatriate artists. Manolis is the police officer who governs the town but more than that, he is the handsome, slim-hipped, tortured, and violent son of God. Each chapter, told from the perspective of Manolis and the various ex-pats, is a short story of its own, ranging in style from magic realism to horror. The sum of these parts is an engrossing novel that entrances readers, enabling them to understand its cast of motley characters’ incomprehensible actions–many played out in dreams. The tenor of Karapanou’s (Kassandra and the Wolf) final novel is best summed up by Manolis himself, as he observes the group of characters who come and go from his island: “The others just drank and cried and used art to disguise their hopelessness; for them art was the last stop, their final excuse to live a little longer.”

*(Her second novel, not her final, but that’s fine—)

The Sleepwalker receives a starred review in Kirkus

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

It’s not so bad to return to the old world of laptop & email after a few days off when it brings news like this. A new review from Kirkus:

The Sleepwalker by Margarita Karapanou, translated by Karen Emmerichsleepwalkerthumbnail

On a Greek island where writers and painters gather, a new messiah sent down by a bored and bitterly disappointed God introduces mayhem to set straight the “small and ridiculous” beings who put pleasure and beauty above Law.

Originally published in 1985, but available in English only now, Karapanou’s second novel (following Kassandra and the Wolf, 1974) helped establish her as one of Greece’s most admired postmodernists. The author, who died in 2008, also established herself with these books as one of the most wicked and unsparing observers of modern life. Her artist characters are all suffering to begin with, bogged down in unfinished or unrealized works and lost in unfulfilling relationships. A painter is able to turn out only headless figures. A novelist who is too self-absorbed to enter his characters imagines “a violent death that might put me, just for a second, into the state you need to be in if you’re going to write.” His fantasy is realized. When the messiah, a cop named Manolis, takes his place among them, all charm and comfort on the surface but with devilish aims inside him, dark forces sweep through the community, leading to rape and murder and disappearances. Part crime novel, part satire, part metafiction, part phantasmagoria, the book is anything but somnambulant. Karapanou writes with a headlong intensity, maintaining a jaundiced but playful tone even when the violence is at its most shocking. There’s a kind of centrifugal force at work, pulling the large cast of characters helplessly toward a heart of darkness.

An absurdist tour de force about lost souls and a lost deity by a criminally neglected Greek novelist.

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—

But why weren’t we in Brooklyn?

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Up at the Mantle (thanks to Three Percent for the link), notes on the “Reading the World” international literature panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival this past weekend, which included Karen Emmerich (representing Archipelago), as well as folks from Ugly Duckling, Zephyr, and New Directions.  Looks just fantastic—I’ll include the bit on Karen here as a lead-in, with a note to say I’m lucky enough to have read the Vakalo translation she mentions, and indeed it’s wonderful:

Great stuff all around, an excellently curated panel. Every single one of the works presented is worth purchasing (skip the library and give these people some money!). … Karen Emmerich (representing Team Archipelago) read the poetry and prose from the Greek writer Miltos Sachtouris, skipping us across Aegean waters from Greek isles to ancient Greece. And then… Ms. Emmerich read an outstanding piece of poetry on the life of plant, by the poet/author Helenē Vakalo. The Mantle audience pleads for an answer—what is this poem and where can we find it? This vegetative poetic genius!?!?

[Keep reading here—]

Karen also read at Words Without Borders’ “Down and Dirty Round the World” event on Saturday, an evening of “of hard-boiled, pulpy, and erotic international literature” read by a great lineup of translators.  Karen reports she read from our soon-to-be-released The Sleepwalker—which has been one of those books that as you finish sending it to press you think, how did we get so lucky, that this strange and singular creature just came when we called?  Come to think of it, I think The Sleepwalker encompasses,  all of the above—the hard-boiled, the pulpy, the erotic—in one formidable, terrifying, beautiful hybrid.

All of which is to say—what a feast of a weekend!  Even if we weren’t there, how nice to catch something of the energy of it all even up here in this corner of Massachusetts…

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.