When the unexpected intervenes

Ersi Sotiropoulou’s latest book, «Achtida sto Skotadi» («A Ray of Light in the Darkness»), published by Kedros, is a kaleidoscopic collection of stories that resist facile interpretation. Starting with «Hoirokamilos» («Camelpig»), her first short-story collection in 1992, Sotiropoulou has created a very personal literary style. On the one hand, she deals with the realm of what is known – all the elements with which we are familiar from our own experience. And on the other, she allows certain blind points to establish themselves in that arena, seeds of doubt are sown and obstacles to understanding and knowledge arise. The 22 stories in «A Ray of Light in the Darkness» cover a broad range: memories, dreams, diary entries, confessions and landscapes. The heroes make their entrance as in the theater, and are immediately exposed on stage, in media res. The writer successfully assumes many roles: oppressed sons, impulsive mothers, secretly aggressive spouses, artists devoted to their work, callous children who sometimes speak in the first person and sometimes are the subject of a third-person narrative. Among them are absolutely contemporary figures – punk rockers, participants on Big Brother, insecure or angry East European migrants. (It is no coincidence that some of Sotiropoulou’s stories, judging by their place of first publication, were commissioned, demonstrating that if a writer cultivates an inner resistance to the manifold temptations of the mass media, the pressure of current events does not necessarily harm artistic creation.) Life in these stories is made up of those elements we look back upon with nostalgia: wonderful flavors – cappuccino and croissants, roast beef with potatoes and rosemary – flavors through which we try to recapture the distant happy past. Life is full of circumstances where we try to relive the unparalleled security we felt when going to our cozy bed and hearing a storm raging outside, or when gazing at the innumerable specks of dust in a ray of light, we feel the luxury of discovering the world in all insignificant and the infinitesimal. Then while everything seems so tangible and friendly, investing the world with meaning, something suddenly intervenes. As the heroes stretch out a hand to grasp the happy moment, something invisible intervenes and everything slips through their fingers. The ardently desired communication with the environment and others is canceled out or at least suspended. They are left stunned, in a state of doubt, perplexity and bafflement. As in the writer’s earlier works «O Vassilias tou Flipper» («The Pinball King,» 1998) and «Zig-Zag stis Nerantzies» («Zig-Zag among the Bitter Orange Trees,» 1999), so in «A Ray of Light in the Darkness,» just when the heroes hold the keys of the kingdom and are about to use them, something undefined renders the keys useless. Everything is up for grabs and everything is lost in an instant. That is the moment when the unknown intervenes, when everything becomes difficult, impenetrable, incomprehensible. Sotiropoulou’s stories act it out, scene by scene. Like her heroes, the author seems not to know from the outset where her text is going. That is why she never shapes it around any well-designed plot. Instead she grounds it in the poetics of the unexpected, in an unusual event, an image – that is to say, on ingredients that operate as catalysts that reveal things. As, for instance, in a scrap of down in the hair of an adolescent daughter and the tender gesture of the mother who removes it; in the deep, meaningless sigh of the dog; or, even, in a half-built tunnel that resembles an amputated arm.

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