Sunday, 8 May 2016

These boots 
are made  for walkin'

Reading the synopsis on the back cover of Something will happen, you'll see you immediately realize that this is not a pleasant reading. Quite the opposite, actually.

There is a nameless father who has no money to buy a piece of bread for his child. And Ellie, who eats a semolina effigy of her former boyfriend. John, using a self-made placard, goes into the most unsuccessful picket ever to honor his friend that was killed at work. A young man has Hans Christian Andersen's Steadfast Tin Soldier as a role model. Michael dreams of travelling to Spain and living there under the influence of the blazing sun and the lyrics of Hernandez, his favourite poet; but until that moment comes he settles for work in an ice-shop, making ice cubes. An immigrant and his Greek girlfriend glue their hands with an ordinary logo stick to prevent the expulsion of the youngest and thus, stay together.

Sixteen stories about people living in Maniatika, Drapetsona, Nikaia, Kaminia – urban areas in Pireaus that I only know of through the verses of old popular songs of the late 1970s and 1980s. Reading through the pages of this short stories collection gave me a strong, vivid idea of what a working-class neighbourhood is like today.

Although journalist by profession, Christos Ikonomou succeeds, with this book his second in Greek but the first to be translated in English–, in becoming a prominent novelist for two reasons. The first is the language he uses realistic, easy-flowing and brisk, with a subcutaneous compassion
for the protagonists of his stories. Νot in the sense of pity, though, but in that of deep empathy and acceptance, αnd that is really moving. He reminded me of the writings of another Greek writer, Lena Kitsopoulou, Known for her idiosyncratic use of common language, devoid of any ostentatious imagery. But here, it is much more subtle, more Faulkner-like and definitely  of a Ken-Loachian saturation. The second reason is that he restores literature to what should be its main concern the defense of the weak, the poor, the marginalized. Where margin, consider all those who are excluded, nowadays, from every aspect of modern life – the contemporary Les Misérables. In Piraeus, as of course elsewhere struck by an economic crisis, those underpriviledged people may have cars and mobile phones but they definitely have an uncertain future; one coloured in black by unemployment, injustice, debts and laws that seem to have been issued to defend only the few. Bearing this in mind, the book could be characterized as political.

There were times when I wanted to drop it. I didn't because despite being dark, the stories are not gloomy. The people who move throughout the book withstand a reality that is as repugnant as a naturalistic depiction of art. And yet, no one even considers to shift away from, displace or overcome the threshold of dignity. All of them continue to live up to their strengths, trusting something that is not defined with words. Which is what sustains them, though. What keeps them going. As in "If you're going through hell, keep going" that Winston Churchill once said. If nothing else, only in the dark can someone clearly see the light, right?


Note: Christos Ikonomou's book was first published in 2010 and since then, it has been translated into six languages. In English, it is masterfully translated by Karen Emmerich and recently launched in the US by Archipelago Books. // The picture of this post is the main theme of the front cover of the Greek edition. // This article was originally published in Greek, on 15.09.2010, and has now been reviewed.

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