CULTURE

No accident, but an act of fate

A Shirley Bassey recording belts out Goldfinger, a voice brays, Daaaahling, and visitors zero in on the martinis that have been stirred but – alas – not chilled. Macmillan are having a bash at the Frankfurt Book Fair to promote their latest James Bond product. Among the crowd are a few pilgrims come to congratulate the publishers of V.S. Naipaul, whose Nobel Prize for literature has just been announced. One of the Naipaul enthusiasts is Thea Halo, an author in her own right, who won acclaim for her first book, Not Even My Name, published by Picador in 1999. At that first meeting with Kathimerini English Edition in October, Halo talked about promoting her book and the prospect of spending some time as a writer in residence at a Greek college. In a subsequent e-mail interview, she explained how her book came into being and how she, a painter and broadcaster, has embarked on a new career as a writer. A survivor’s story In Not Even My Name, Halo recounts the haunting story of how her mother Sano survived a death march forced on Pontic Greeks in Turkey in 1920. Sano escaped with her life, but lost her family and even her name. Treated as a slave by the woman into whose care she was entrusted, she was married off at the age of 15 to a man who took her to America. Eventually she had 10 children and managed to make a new life for herself. Critics and readers gave the book an enthusiastic reception in America. Apart from its strong appeal for readers from communities affected by the historical incidents it depicts, the book also struck a chord with other readers. As Halo explains: It made me realize that the story portrayed in ‘Not Even My Name’ filled a deep need in the Greek, Assyrian and Armenian communities, and judging from the glowing responses from readers outside those communities, my mother’s life also became a source of inspiration. The book was translated into Greek by Marina Frangos and published by Govosti Publishers in June 2000, going into its fourth edition within nine weeks. Story and writer emerge Halo grew up hearing her mother’s stories, but it was the pilgrimage she made with her mother to Turkey, 70 years after Sano went into exile, that precipitated the writing of the book. Before that trip, says Halo, my mother’s stories of family and people had remained just that. Her stories of her family and her people. But when I stood on that land they said was hers, for the first time in my life, they became my stories of my family and my people. I then wanted to know all the details of her life. Knowing those details made it impossible for me not to want to write her story. The desire was there, but Halo didn’t yet perceive herself as a writer. I came late to writing, she says. Painting has been my lifelong career. I started writing poetry, probably because I had a friend who used to read me his poetry, and then a boyfriend who also read me poetry. In 1990 I worked as an announcer for public radio and soon became a producer of my own programs. I then wrote the scripts for two radio plays from short stories. I suppose writing sort of crept up on me. I began to write poetry more seriously in about 1991, and it was then that I also wrote my first short story. After I took my mother back to find her home in Turkey in 1989, I wanted to write her story, but didn’t have the courage. I had always been intimidated by writing because I had read such great literature from such an early age. A happy coincidence provided the necessary impetus. Halo explains: I have always thought there is a key to everything if one could just find it, even a key to good writing. One day in 1992, I was walking down the street and found a pile of books someone had thrown out on ‘How To Write.’ I grabbed them and in one of them I found the key I had been looking for. I then wrote a short story and was told by an agent that it was beautifully written… that if I ever wrote a book I should send it to him. That was the encouragement I needed. I then began my mother’s story. I’ve come to believe that my writing career was no accident, but rather an act of fate. Ethnic roots Until the release of her book, Halo had little connection with her Greek and Assyrian ethnic roots. She grew up in an Irish-American community and has lived ever since in an arts community. She describes the embrace by these two communities as a gift: It’s sometimes difficult to know that something is missing in your life until you finally find it. Publishing her book has brought her closer to the Greek community, says Halo, and literally to Greece itself. She and her mother came to Greece for the book launch, and Halo will return soon to spend some time as writer in residence at Anatolia College in Thessaloniki, where she will give some lectures and continue working on the screenplay for Not Even My Name. There is another project that is dear to her heart. Halo has made a proposal for a museum replicating her mother’s village in Turkey and a statue to commemorate her mother’s contribution to Pontian history, and the memory of the Pontic Greeks who lost their lives, homes and country. She wants the statue to be a life-size bronze calf tied to a live apple tree with a bronze of a nine-year-old girl in Pontic dress by its side. As she says, I especially want the tree to be a live apple or pear tree because it would flower each spring. For me this flowering would represent the triumph of good over evil; the indestructibility of the Pontic people and their culture.