CULTURE

From a fresco on isle of Thera to the heart of new Europe

A children’s book written to celebrate the Greek presidency of Europe sounds like a worthy project but not necessarily one that promises riveting reading. Yet when talented children’s literature author Eugene Trivizas is part of the equation, the result is an attractive modern myth. An exceptionally prolific writer, Trivizas has published more than 100 books, all of which are still in print. He has also written 20 plays, an opera libretto and popular TV serials. His books have been translated into 15 languages and his «The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig» has been included in the Heinemann collection of the 10 best picture-book classics ever published. «A Swallow over Europe,» translated by Bruce Walter and illustrated by Rania Varvaki, tells the story of a swallow «with a long forked tail who lives with his companions in an ancient fresco on a sun-drenched island in the seas of Greece.» When the swallow sets out to build his nest, his story joins up with the story of the new Europe. In an e-mail interview with Kathimerini English Edition, Trivizas described the genesis of the book and the challenges it presented. Was this book your idea or were you commissioned to write it? The book was initially commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to introduce the swallow – symbol of the Greek presidency – during the inauguration ceremony of the Greek presidency. However, due to various problems, delays and the intervening war, we were unable to do that in time and it was finally decided to present the book at the Halkidiki summit. My work was known to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because I have written a story (in CD form) for the purpose of teaching Greek as a second language in the primary schools of the Turkish-speaking minority in Thrace. I accepted the commission for the European Union book because I thought that such a book could offer a ray of hope and optimism, taking into account the difficult times Europe had been through recently. Unity and diversity It was a demanding but rewarding challenge. The main difficulty was this: How to combine the symbol of the swallow with the «Spring» fresco in Santorini and the concept of European unity. After various attempts, I decided to opt for the «European nest» story line, which allowed me to combine mythology, geography and politics and to express the need not only for unity but also for cultural diversity. The book was produced in record time (less than a month) so as to be ready for the Halkidiki summit. During the last few days, editor Maria Koutsioumba, artistic supervisor Vasso Varvaki and the French translator Jean-Marc Matallana were working late into the night, up to 5 a.m. in the morning. I am grateful to them. Is it the first time that you have written something to order? No. I have written two other books as a result of commissions: «Pegasus and Mendios: The Amazing Adventures of a Donkey and a Winged Horse,» commissioned by the Mass Media Ministry’s General Secretariat of Information, and distributed by Greek press offices all over the world to children and other interested parties as an introduction to Greek mythology, history, geography and folklore. A dramatized version of this book has been performed at the Barbican Center, the Frankfurt book fair and recently in Magdalen College, Oxford, and in New York. (For information, see [email protected]). The second is the Olympic tale «Despina and the Dove,» commissioned by the organizing committee for the Olympic Games, Athens 2004, to help raise awareness of the history of the ancient and recent Olympic Games and the Olympic ideals. It can be found in English, French and German at the organizing committee’s website (www.olympiceducation.gr). At what stage did you work with the illustrator? At each and every stage. Although Rania did the illustration, her sister Vasso Varvaki is responsible for combining the drawings with the computer-processed photographs. Thanks to e-mails and PDF files, I was able to work closely with both of them throughout the production of this book. What kind of readership do you expect for the book? Most of my books have a dual readership. They are read by both children and adults. I hope that this will be the case with «A Swallow over Europe.» Also, since it is an entertaining introduction to all things European, I hope it will find its place in schools and colleges throughout the European community. The sculpture I suggested to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they commission a sculpture of the swallow in his «European» nest (based on the illustration in the book) and offer it as a present to be placed at the entrance of the European Union building in Brussels. Indeed, the sculptress and illustrator Lisa Iliou has produced such a sculpture but I’m not sure if it has reached its destination. If not, I hope that another opportunity will be found for the European swallow nest to go where it belongs Co-editions The first edition of the book in Greek, French and English was distributed to members of the European delegations and the international press attending the summit in Halkidiki. However, the Foreign Ministry and Hellenic Presidency of the European Union have now given permission for a commercial edition of the book so as to make it available to the general public. The book will be published by Militos Editions, and also translated into Italian, German and Spanish. Militos is already in touch with Editore Crocetti in Italy, exploring the possibility of an Italian co-edition, and Doris Wille has started working on a German translation. Militos hopes to find other European publishers interested in international co-editions of the book.