CULTURE

HQ expounds on Greek literature in modern times

Januaries are for thinking ahead while clearing out the old. The Hellenic Quarterly’s fall 2003 issue arrived a touch late, but fortunately its rich subject matter – a special issue on Greek books – can be enjoyed just as well in 2004. This issue divides into non-fiction and fiction sections, though even the former consists of essays on Greek literature; the fiction section includes actual excerpts. Brief reviews, some with (briefer) author bios, fill out the books section at the end. All this faithfully sustains the magazine’s ongoing aim, to present Greece’s prodigious literary output to a wider, English-speaking audience. HQ can be credited with doing so to a quarterly production schedule that requires extensive translation. Superb black-and-white photographs of everyday life in Greece and its regions by Nikos Economopoulos (whose internationally recognized work is reviewed in two essays) alone makes the 7-euro cover price worthwhile. Short stories and poetry have long competed with novels in the culture of Seferis and Cavafy, as several writers underscore. Editor Alexis Ziras reminds us that 2002 was actually «a year of proflicacy» [sic] for Greek poets. Some of it, alas, shows signs of «emotional fatigue,» or a «minimalistic, introverted trend,» but the sheer output is telling. Christoforos Milionis reviews postwar Greek short-story writing, and the political and social upheavals that drove it. Four essays then follow on youth and children’s books (juvenile literature being a growth industry). Two books on Greek economic development and one on the history of ancient mathematics show the continuing Greek interest in the history of science (all published in 2003). The fiction excerpts range colorfully across the decades, with revealing slices of anonymous lives. Several articles look back on the 25 years of To Dendro, a quality literary review, with insights from its editor, Costas Mavroudis; others focus on poets Nana Issaia, Dimitris Potamitis and Marios Markidis (all of whom died in 2002-03). Greek literature’s often abstract themes cannot make for easy translation. Even so, one can learn much about contemporary Greek letters from this issue, and the editors have kept transliterative howlers to a minimum. One suggestion: The events agenda at the end could list coming as well as current cultural events to help people plan.