‘Angelic & Black’ modern tales

Short stories are notoriously difficult sellers, as anyone who has tried to shop a collection to a publisher can attest. Publishing houses today – motivated more by pure profit, as are so many other industries, than the gentlemen’s businesses of yesteryear – tend to avoid them, no matter how good the writing. That makes it all the more admirable that Cosmos Publishing has just brought out «Angelic & Black: Contemporary Greek Short Stories» (2006), an anthology edited and translated by David Connolly, one of the most prolific translators working in Greece today. The sense is that there is a higher aim than sales to bringing out this book of short stories: that Connolly and Cosmos want to introduce Greece’s best contemporary authors to a wider readership. Many of the writers included, in fact, are frequent names on the country’s best-seller lists, while the majority of the authors selected have also received state literary prizes – some more than once. Included are many of the old guard: Dimitris Nollas, Ersi Sotiropoulou, Christophoros Milionis, Alexis Panselinos, Zyranna Zatelli, and the incomparable Menis Koumandareas, to name a few. Younger generation However, in keeping with the «contemporary» in this collection’s subtitle, most of the tales are by an even newer generation of writers, such as Petros Tatsopoulos, Ioanna Karystiani, Amanda Michalopoulou, Christos Homenidis and Yorgos Skabardonis, whose longer works are among the most popular novels being read in Greece today. And there is some masterful storytelling among these 34 tales: Sotiris Dimitriou’s «The Plunderer» and Tatsopoulos’s «A Smelly Weakness» are succinct, funny and especially well-crafted. And «Seraphim» by Koumandareas is a joy to read; he’s one of the modern authors in the collection who seems as comfortable writing a well-constructed short story as he is a full novel. This is also true of the narratives by the much praised contemporary novelists Michalopoulou and Karystiani. But that’s not true of all of the collection. Maro Douka, one of the grandes dames of modern Greek fiction, has been included with her work «Carre Fix,» a story that left this reader with a perplexed «so what?» upon completion of the tale. Some too surreal Meanwhile, in the stories by Homenidis, Michel Fais and Rhea Galanaki there was the feeling that something of those stories’ essence hadn’t come through. Perhaps because those yarns were somewhat surreal in their story lines: Fais’s is about talking cats, Galanaki’s a ghost story and Homenidis’s a dark tale about a man who begins an affair with the young woman who knocks on his door looking for help in burying the bodies of her parents she’s just murdered. It is hard to imagine the inspiration that caused them to be written in the first place. But these are exceptions in a collection that on the whole is a worthy introduction to the writing of today’s contemporary Greek authors. The subjects of the tales run the gamut from historical, anecdotal and autobiographical to just plain fun. «Angelic and Black» it is.