CULTURE

Master storyteller Eugene Trivizas

A scrappy black alley cat pays little attention when dusky fellow felines start disappearing on his island in «The Last Black Cat» by Eugene Trivizas. He has other things on his mind – a hot date with the delectable Graziella and a feast scavenged from a five-star garbage can. But when he witnesses a brutal cat-napping, the feisty narrator suspects foul play. Assisted by inveterate fish-thief Choptail, an assortment of street cats and some unlikely allies, including Cheapskate the mouse and Wallace the lovesick woodpecker, he launches an investigation. The heroes uncover horrendous skullduggery. Playing on superstition and prejudice, a gang of unscrupulous businessmen has whipped politicians and public into a frenzy of hatred against black cats, making them the scapegoat for every private, public and economic woe on the island. In what adult readers will recognize as chilling echo of some of the darker moments in human history, the demagoguery and propaganda succeed and the islanders all too willingly join in the ferocious decimation of the black cat population. Luckily, our hero has a trick or two up his sleeve. Wicked humor Sound grim? It is rather, but master storyteller Trivizas laces the horrors with wicked humor. The criminologist and hugely successful author of children’s books can make a moral tale downright enjoyable. «The Last Black Cat,» originally published in Greek in 2000, has just been released by Egmont Books. Sandy Zervas’s pitch-perfect English translation recreates the racy tone of the original and Jessica Meserve’s illustrations celebrate the pure essence of the feline. Kathimerini English Edition asked the storyteller about «The Last Black Cat.» What was the genesis of the book? My office in London faces a row of windows in an old Victorian building. Whenever I look up from what I’m writing, I see the same building, the same windows. But those windows have provided the stimulus for many of my stories, such as the tale of a curtain that dreamed of becoming a ballerina and dancing in the middle of the sky. In this case, I used to see a fat black cat curled up on one of the window sills. One day, returning from a trip, I saw another fat cat on the windowsill, the only difference being that this one was white. «What’s going on here,» I wondered. «Is it another cat or could the same have changed color?» And if it is the same cat, why would it change color? Could it be the last black cat in the world, being hunted to death by a fraternity of the superstitious that believes black cats bring bad luck? Maybe that man standing on the sidewalk below in a gabardine with the collar up is a member of the gang? Those images inspired me to write the story of a secret sect whose members believe that black cats bring bad luck and their attempt to exterminate them. I tried to combine the adventure of the merciless hunt with a love story (the relationship between the alley cat and Graziella, the beautiful white Angora), a detective story (the attempt to uncover the plotters’ sinister conspiracy) and at the same time explore in an allegorical way the issues of prejudice, racism and superstition. I like the way you tackle a tough subject with humor. What kind of reaction do you get from children to the grimmer scenes in the book? The subject is indeed quite tough. One of the issues I discussed with the publishers was whether the descriptions of humans exterminating black cats – such as the man in the white suit drowning black cats in the Turkish bath or the fur merchant who tortures his victims in the dark dungeons of his fur factory should be omitted or toned down. After lengthy deliberation, we decided to keep them because they are essential to highlighting the horrors of prejudice, superstition and racism. In any case, the incidents of maltreatment and abuse of the persecuted victims in the novel pale into insignificance compared with the actual horrors suffered by black cats in the Middle Ages when, as a result of the church denouncing them as diabolical, massive massacres routinely took place. The recent trial in London of a family torturing a child in the belief that it was a witch and the revelation that it is a widespread practice shows that we must never be complacent. Throughout the novel, however, I have attempted to balance menace, cruelty and despair with courage, humor and hope. Judging from their letters, children find the disturbing scenes thought-provoking and enjoy the story as a whole. Having said that, I should point out that «The Last Black Cat» is not just for children. In Greece, the book has an adult readership as well and I hope this will prove to be the case in the English and other foreign editions. The translation impressed me. Do you work together with your translators? We work as team, not only with the translator but with the editor as well, discussing various alternatives, exchanging ideas, compromising or trying to convince each other. Disagreements are inevitable, but of course the translator has the final say. In this case, the most time-consuming task was finding the right names for the numerous heroes and villains, victims and persecutors in the story. Choptail The ones that exercised us most were the cat who specializes in seeking out and running off with fried fish from inns and seaside restaurants (Choptail, also known as Commandocat or Sizzler), the inventor who claims to have discovered a revolutionary method by which black cats can turn white (Federico Firenze), the two dynamic cats who fight for the leadership in the struggle against the cat-hating sect (Darren the Daring and Garry the Grabber), and many others. I should mention that it took Egmont more than a year to find the right translator – commissioning many drafts and comparing quite outstanding efforts before reaching the final decision. I want to express my gratitude to all those who worked on the book. The story is so vivid it just asks to be filmed. Are there any plans for a film? I have been approached by two producers with proposals to animate the film and Costas Spyropoulos, director of the Hellenic Broadcasting corporation, together with Agamemnon Koliatsos of Greek Stocks are in the process of working on a business plan for the production of a television series centered around the characters of the book, as well as establishing international investment interest from private and public sources. Let’s hope that their efforts are successful.